Statement at the Side Event and Panel Discussion: Bearing Witness: Human Rights and Accountability in Syria
Note: This side event was held on the opening Day of the 21st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council and was sponsored by the following diplomatic missions: France, Germany, United Kingdom, Qatar, United States of America, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia and the European Union.
Statement by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
As Prepared for Delivery
Human Rights Council 21st Session
September 10, 2012
We really appreciate this panel and the work of the co-sponsors in organizing it. Syria is again at the top of our agenda at this Council, which is a very sad fact. This morning, the 21st Session of the Human Rights Council began with a call from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to step up engagement and vigilance on Syria, and to ensure that those who violate international human rights are brought to justice.
Here at this event we listened to the direct and sometimes graphic testimony from human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers who have been on the frontlines and who bear witness to these tragic events. Listening to your testimonies will help us more fully appreciate the consequences of this crisis for civilians and victims of the violence. We admire the courage and perseverance of the panelists.
In response, the members of the HRC must do everything in our power to defend the human rights of the Syrian people, to ensure accountability and to prevent impunity for unspeakable atrocities and massacres.
The work of the Commission of Inquiry which has been documenting the ongoing human rights violations and escalating violence in Syria since it was created by this Council at its 17th session, has been central to that mandate.
As was noted, the latest report by the COI found that the gross violations of human rights in Syria were committed as the result of a deliberate State policy originating at the highest levels of the Assad government. The nature of recent violence – aerial bombardments, targeting civilian centers, and custodial killings – suggest a policy of collective punishment.
The COI’s findings also left no doubt that the Al Houla Massacre on May 25 was perpetrated by Government forces and Shabbiha fighters. Over 100 civilians, nearly half of whom were children, were killed in that incident.
As the transition proceeds, the Syrian people will have the leading voice in determining issues of accountability. But the work of the Commission will provide extensive documentation from an independent, international mechanism to aid them in their task.
The witnesses today will help us remember: the conflict in Syria is the direct result of a brutal regime that chose to react with violence and unconscionable tactics to peaceful demonstrations. As one of the panelists said today, this policy was a conscious choice. There is no doubt that the architect of this destruction is Bashar al Assad. As High Commissioner Pillay said earlier, Assad has shown contempt for civilians including children. As we have said on many occasions, Assad and his regime must go.
We thank the panelists for bearing witness for bearing witness today to these crimes, that, as you all said, may rise to the level of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Question for the Panelists: Could you let us know anything more concrete that the COI could do to ensure accountability.