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Transcript: Brimmer, Donahoe Speak With Press During HRC Urgent Debate on Syria
February 28, 2012

Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs


Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council

Press Stakeout at the United Nations Office at Geneva

A press conference
Esther Brimmer and Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe speak with the press

Assistant Secretary Brimmer:  Thank you.  It’s great to be here in Geneva, back at the Human Rights Council.

As we saw today the world has gathered to call attention to the heinous crimes being perpetrated against the Syrian people by their own government.  You saw and heard from countries from around the globe today calling attention to the violence in Syria.  It’s clear what needs to happen.  The Syrian government needs first to end the violence, end the attacks on civilians.  They need to pull the military back to their barracks.  They need to allow humanitarian access.  They need to allow civilians, especially journalists, freedom to come and go.

It is crucial that life-saving humanitarian assistance get into the Syrian people as soon as possible.  It’s crucial that that assistance gets there to save lives.

The United States joins with countries from around the globe again to appeal for that humanitarian assistance and to make clear that the Syrian people should be able to stand up and advance the human rights that are the fundamental basis of this Council.

The world has been quite clear.  The Arab League has spoken.  The Friends of Syria have spoken.  The General Assembly has spoken.  And we would anticipate here this week passing a resolution here at the Human Rights Council.

The members of the Council, the Geneva community, has been clear from the very beginning, really played a leadership role in calling attention to the human rights in Syria that the Syrian people should be able to enjoy like all people on the planet, enjoy their universal human rights.

Thank you.

Media:  I was wondering if you could comment on the [maneuver] by the French to try and move forward the humanitarian [inaudible] Security Council [inaudible].  Is that a good idea?

Assistant Secretary Brimmer:  On this point you have referred to the French, whatever move they’re putting forward, but we think it’s important that all parts of the international community call attention to what’s going on in Syria.  We think, of course, that we should have passed a resolution at the Security Council. The United States along with 13 countries voted for it and we think this is a challenge for international peace and security and that we should have created the space and the security for the Syrians to be able to honor their own human rights.

Media:  [Inaudible]?  And do you think that [inaudible]?  [Inaudible]?  If not, [inaudible]?

Assistant Secretary Brimmer:  We think that the Human Rights Council is an important voice on the human rights of people in Syria.  Indeed, and I commend the members of the Human Rights Council and the delegations here in Geneva who even in 2011 were calling attention to the human rights situation in Syria.  This is an important place to be able to call attention to the human rights and humanitarian aspects.  This is a critical juncture.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen a significant deterioration in the humanitarian conditions in Syria, and this body can help call attention to that.

Media:  You said the countries should stop arming the Syrian government.  Would you feel the same way about any arms going to the rebels?  And do you support the calls for ICC referral of Syria?

Assistant Secretary Brimmer:  I think unfortunately that we think that adding more arms to Syria will not solve the situation.  Ultimately we want to reduce the levels of violence.  As we said, we want to reduce the attacks on civilians by the Syrian government.  We think accountability is incredibly important, and as there ultimately will be a transition, and the Syrian people will be able to decide how they want to hold their leaders accountable.

But what the international community can do is support the collection of data.  That’s why the Commission of Inquiry is so important.   It provides useful and clear data on what is actually happening, and this body should renew the mandate on the Commission of Inquiry.

Media:  [Inaudible].  The Ambassador of Syria left the room.  What are your impressions of that?  Do you think that they care about what the international community is saying today?  And also Mrs. Hillary Clinton said about China and Russia that they were despicable for not being at the Friends reunion in Tunisia.  What do you think about today’s statements about Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela?

Assistant Secretary Brimmer:  I think it’s important here that the international community gather here to speak about what’s going on within Syria.  Countries can say what they like.  We believe in freedom of expression.  But you heard very clearly what the United States believes, that it’s important we support the human rights of the people of Syria.

Ambassador Donahoe:  I’d just like to add a comment on the subject of what do we think about the fact that the Syrian Ambassador left the room.  Anybody who heard the Syrian Ambassador should be aware that his comments were border line out of touch with reality.  I think it’s a reflection to some extent of what’s going on with the Assad regime itself, holding a referendum that is completely farcical and a mockery of democratic processes when they’re in the midst of a humanitarian crisis of their own creation.  I think that the Syrian Ambassador’s comments were equally delusional.

And the fact that the Chinese and the Russians have been called out for their veto in New York and their failure to support the Friends of Syria process, the good news is at the Human Rights Council no country has a veto.  So you will now see a very strong outcome supporting the Syrian people, protecting their human rights and ensuring humanitarian access simply because countries can come together and no one country can stop the will of the international community.

Media:  [inaudible] News Agency.

What will be the next action of the United States if Syrian government refuses to cooperate with Mr. Kofi Annan?

Assistant Secretary Brimmer:  We really have to see what happens.  We can’t speculate about what happens. We do think that the appointment of Kofi Annan was an important gesture showing the support of the international community for a political transition.  This is a joint envoy for the Arab League and the United Nations showing the unity of the international community.  And indeed we commend the important leadership of the Arab League.  The countries in the region coming together to show their support for the people of Syria, and we think that working through Kofi Annan will be an important part of trying to resolve this situation and a contribution the international community can make to this effort.

Media:  Did the U.S. [inaudible] in the Security Council?

Assistant Secretary Brimmer:  At this stage we of course want to continue to try to be able to use all tools of the international system to support the Syrian people.  We think that there should be a resolution in the Security Council.  We voted for it twice.  So at some point we hope that all members of the Security Council will see reason and agree.

Ambassador Donahoe:  Just joining that question with the earlier Saudi question, I would like to remind everybody here in Geneva at the Human Rights Council, this is not our last action on Syria even in this session.  This was an interim measure because of the humanitarian crisis developing right now, before our eyes.  As the carnage has increased, the resolve of the international community has increased, and that’s what you see today.  This was not originally part of our program of work or planned.

What is planned and is still ahead is the Commission of Inquiry reports to us as planned on March 12th and there will be another, more elaborate resolution condemning the human rights violations and talking about accountability.  This was an extra emergency measure to demonstrate the resolve of the international community and hopefully focusing the world’s attention on the humanitarian crisis.