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Transcript: Press Briefing Following Adoption of HRC Resolution on Syria
September 27, 2013

Press Stakeout Following Adoption of Syria Resolution

Ambassador Karen Pierce
Permanent Representative of the U.K.

Ambassador Mehmet Ferden Carici
Permanent Representative of Turkey

Ambassador Nicolas Niemtchinow
Permanent Representative of France

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

Opening Remarks at Press Stakeout
Following Adoption of the Resolution on Syria

 September 27, 2013

Ambassador Pierce:  Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  Thank you very much for coming.

As many of you know, just a few moments ago the Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly to condemn the continuing grave deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria and that includes, of course, the use of chemical weapons and the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians by the Syrian regime.

I would like to draw your attention, if I may, to the fact that this time around there was only one no vote in the Council, which we haven’t seen on Syria before.  I think that’s significant.

As members of the core group that sponsored this resolution, we stand together today to condemn the ongoing violations of international humanitarian law and we reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Syria.

The adoption of this resolution from all regions of the world we hope will send a very strong signal to the Syrian government.

The resolution demands that the Syrian authorities grant immediate, full and unfettered access throughout Syria to the international independent Commission of Inquiry.  The work of the Commission is instrumental to document the crimes, to collect evidence, and identify those who are responsible.

President Assad complains about what he calls the bias and selectivity of the UN Commission, but if he has nothing to hide, then he should let the Commission in.

This resolution tells the authors of the crimes, whoever they are, wherever they are, you will be held to account and you will not remain unpunished.  States have a responsibility to support and to encourage the fight against impunity.  No one is above the law.

Thank you, and I would now like to give the floor to my colleague, the Turkish Ambassador, who is also in the core group.  Thank you.

Ambassador Carici:  Hello.  A central message of the resolution we have adopted today is that Syrian authorities must guarantee the full, immediate and safe access by the United Nations and by relevant humanitarian actors.

As a place of first refuge for so many victims throughout centuries, my country Turkey, like other countries who share borders with Syria, is experiencing first-hand the human rights and humanitarian tragedy unfolding there.

Facing the threat of massacres and the dire conditions of daily life, people are thrown into the street, fleeing their country. More than 7 million refugees and IDPs are in need of humanitarian assistance.  My own country is host to nearly 600,000 refugees.  In this context, the resolution urges the international community to provide financial support to enable the host countries to respond to this humanitarian calamity of the 21st Century.

The four countries bordering Syria face similar problems when it comes to the influx of Syrians fleeing this violence.  Let me remind you that recently the five UN agencies feeling the human cost of this tragedy published an appeal which they started with the words, “Enough.  Enough.”  It is really enough.  The voice of suffering in Syria must be heard.

Let me turn the floor over to my French colleague.

Ambassador Niemtchinow: 

L’adoption de cette résolution illustre on ne peut plus clairement l’isolement du régime syrien et les inquiétudes légitimes de la communauté internationale devant l’ampleur des violations des droits de l’Homme commises en Syrie.

Le dernier rapport de la Commission d’enquête indépendante est accablant. Il montre que des crimes de guerre et des crimes contre l’humanité sont commis en Syrie. Il montre une généralisation des attaques indiscriminées contre les civils, les femmes, les enfants et le personnel médical. La responsabilité première de ces crimes incombe au régime, même si de graves violations sont également commises par les membres les plus extrémistes des groupes d’opposition armés.

Par cette résolution, le Conseil des droits de l’Homme adresse un message clair : nous devons tous aller dans le même sens – condamner les violations répétées des droits de l’homme commises en Syrie, dénoncer le manque de coopération du régime avec les mécanismes des Nations Unies et rappeler l’urgence de garantir un accès au territoire syrien pour tous les acteurs humanitaires. Rien ne peut justifier le refus des autorités syriennes de donner un accès au territoire syrien à la commission d’enquête indépendante du Conseil des droits de l’Homme.

Le Conseil des droits de l’Homme condamne également sans ambiguïté les massacres commis en Syrie. Avec l’attaque chimique de la Ghouta, nous avons atteint une nouvelle étape dans l’horreur.

Nous ne pouvons pas rester les témoins impuissants d’une tragédie qui a désormais atteint un degré sans précédent. Les crimes commis en Syrie ne devront pas rester impunis. Les coupables devront en répondre. Telle est l’exigence forte de la communauté internationale adressée au régime de Damas depuis le Conseil des droits de l’Homme. Cette exigence doit être entendue.

Ambassador Donahoe:  Let me just briefly close and summarize before we take a few questions together.

The message of today’s resolution is clear and indisputable.  The international community is unified in demanding immediate, safe and unfettered access for the Syria Commission of Inquiry to investigate the serious allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the use of chemical weapons which the UN report confirmed unequivocally.  In addition, the international community demands full, immediate and safe access for humanitarian actors.

As President Obama has made clear in New York, the United States goals in Syria are focused first on the well-being of the Syrian people; second, on the stability of Syria’s neighbors; third, on the elimination of chemical weapons; and fourth, on ensuring that Syria does not become a safe haven for terrorists.  These goals are shared by all of our partners here and in fact by the entire international community.

The course of events in Syria defies any sense of morality and human decency and has shocked the conscience of the world. For more than two years, the Assad regime has turned the full force of its firepower against the Syrian people.  The egregious use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians in the Damascus suburbs on August 21st demonstrates the new level to which the violence has risen.

In the context of the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Human Rights Council has played its essential role:  Two years ago we appointed the Commission of Inquiry which has done an extraordinary job in documenting the atrocities and terrible realities of the situation inside Syria.  The top line message to the Assad regime from the COI, from the High Commissioner, as well as from the membership of the Human Rights Council is simple:  Stop the targeting of and indiscriminate attacks against protected civilians.

Notwithstanding the fact that the COI has not yet been permitted to enter Syria, the COI has amassed a substantial body of evidence to support and to ensure that there will be accountability for those who have perpetrated the most heinous crimes against the Syrian people.  The horrific images of children choking as they inhaled toxic fumes cannot be forgotten and will not go unanswered.

Importantly and in closing, due to our efforts to make the Assad regime answerable for its illegal use of chemical weapons, larger diplomatic efforts have now been reenergized and discussions are once again underway to move toward a negotiated settlement of this crisis.  The United States, and all of our partners are deeply committed to a political process to bring about a Syrian-led transition based on the framework agreed to in the Geneva Communiqué.

With that, we will together take a few questions.