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AFTERNOON - Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and Starts Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burundi

Meeting Summaries

 

Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and began an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi. It also concluded its interactive dialogue with the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said today, Syrians faced increasing and intolerable hardships, living among the ruins of this lengthy conflict. Millions were suffering in displacement camps, while resources were becoming scarcer, donor fatigue was rising, and now there was a cholera outbreak. The war was not over despite a general reduction in fighting. The Secretary-General’s urgent report on this issue contained a clear recommendation for the establishment of an international body, as called for by families and survivors, and this body, focusing strongly on victims and survivors and inclusive of families, must be established as soon as possible.

Syria, speaking as a country concerned, said Syria had rejected the creation of the Commission of Inquiry and the extensions of its mandate, and it rejected its politicised and biased reports. The latest report ignored the nature of the terrorist war targeting Syria and the external factors supporting the establishment of armed terrorist groups, which included thousands of foreign terrorists, that continued to commit crimes on Syrian territory. The Commission had distorted the efforts of the Syrian State to protect its people, provide for their basic needs, achieve national reconciliations and facilitate the return of displaced persons and refugees. Immediately and unconditionally lifting the economic blockade targeting the Syrian people was the gateway to ending their suffering and to ensuring their enjoyment of human rights, which were being violated as a result of unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States and the European Union.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers commended the work of the Commission and expressed concern about the deteriorating security, humanitarian and socio-economic situation in Syria. Some speakers condemned continued, serious violations of human rights committed by the Syrian authorities. They called for the situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Many speakers called for resolution 2254 of the Security Council to be implemented. A number of speakers said that the Commission’s report was based on fabricated information and was politically motivated. The Council should not interfere with the internal affairs and sovereignty of States. The Council should work to support the fight against international terrorism that was impacting Syria, and work to achieve peace through dialogue.

Speaking in the discussion on Syria were Lithuania on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic group, European Union, Qatar, Liechtenstein, Kuwait, Switzerland, Israel, Cyprus, Republic of Korea, France, Ecuador, Germany, Egypt, Ireland, Iraq, Australia, Luxembourg, Cuba, United Arab Emirates, Malta, Venezuela, Jordan, Russian Federation, China, Netherlands, Chile, United States, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Romania, Belarus, Italy, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Burundi, Greece, Georgia, Malawi, Albania, Türkiye, Iran, Nicaragua, and Japan.

Also speaking were Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, World Jewish Congress, Physicians for Human Rights, Palestinian Return Centre, Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom, International Service for Human Rights, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Commission of Jurists, and International Bar Association.

The Council also started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi.

Fortune Gaetan Zongo, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, said it was essential today that Burundi reaffirmed its commitment and agreed to commit itself more effectively to advancing human rights. The human rights situation had not changed substantially. Establishing accountability was one of the keys to lasting peace, as was the need for deeper institutional reforms. Establishing and acknowledging the truth would help to recognise victims and encourage their social reintegration. A system for the protection of victims and witnesses of human rights violations needed to be established.

Burundi, speaking as a country concerned, said that Burundi was fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and complied with its international obligations in that regard. The situation had been improving every year in all sectors of life in the country, and a number of reforms had been initiated in terms of good governance, social justice, freedom of the press, civil and political rights, and national reconciliations, among others. The situation had improved, and the Human Rights Council should not miss this opportunity to remove Burundi from its agenda, as it was unfair and irrelevant to retain the special mechanism. The Special Rapporteur on Burundi should have his mandate ended.

The National Human Rights Commission of Burundi also took the floor.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia.

Radkiha Coomaraswamy, Member of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, said in concluding remarks that the Commission would consider how to work more closely with Ethiopian institutions while maintaining its impartiality. The Commission expected the Council to remain seized of the issues presented and to continue to monitor the situation, and urged the Council to work towards stopping hostilities and holding those responsible for abuses accountable.

Steven Ratner, Member of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, in concluding remarks, said that the Commission had examined violations that were of particular gravity. The Government had been working hard to secure access for humanitarian organizations to provide support. The Commission aimed to write reports that did not take sides in the conflict and maintained its impartiality.

In the continued dialogue on Ethiopia, speakers said there had been alarming reports of serious human rights violations and abuses committed by all parties during the conflict, including summary executions and sexual and gender-based violence. There was concern over the protracted humanitarian crisis and food insecurity across the country, which emphasised the urgency to cease all hostilities and negotiate a comprehensive ceasefire. All parties should guarantee full and unfettered humanitarian access to alleviate the suffering of civilians. The commitment of both sides to an African Union-led end to the hostilities was commended. The work of the Commission as a form of deterrence was vital, and it should have its mandate renewed, as the scale of the atrocities did, in some areas, amount to war crimes, and it was necessary for its work to continue. Some speakers said the work of the Commission should be based on impartiality, non-bias, non-selectivity, with respect for the sovereignty of Ethiopia, urging the Commission to focus on supporting the Government’s ongoing efforts.

Speaking in the interactive discussion were New Zealand, Malawi, Eritrea, Republic of Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, Türkiye and Eritrea.

Also speaking were Ethiopia Human Rights Commission, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Human Rights Watch, Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience , Amnesty International, Legal Action Worldwide, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Center for Global Nonkilling, International Bar Association, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, The Next Century Foundation, Society for Threatened Peoples, Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Every Casualty Worldwide, and Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety.

Speaking at the end of the meeting in right of reply were Türkiye and Greece.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-first regular session can be found here.

The Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 23 September to conclude the interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine.

Interactive Dialogue with the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia

The interactive dialogue with Kaari Betty Murungi, Chairperson of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Remarks by the Delegation of Ethiopia

Ethiopia, speaking as a country concerned, said that Ethiopia expected the European Union to understand and respect the territorial integrity of the country. The Government had attempted to engage with the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, but the Commission had failed to implement its mandate, and had made all its efforts irrelevant.

Discussion

In the discussion, speakers said the nearly two-year conflict in North Ethiopia had caused thousands of civilian casualties and millions of displaced persons. In addition, there had been alarming reports of serious human rights violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict, including summary executions and sexual and gender-based violence. All allegations must be thoroughly investigated, and perpetrators of such atrocities must be held accountable.

There was concern about the protracted humanitarian crisis and food insecurity across Ethiopia, which emphasised the urgency to cease all hostilities and negotiate a comprehensive ceasefire. All parties should guarantee full and unfettered humanitarian access to alleviate the suffering of civilians. In regard to reconciliation, more needed to be done to ensure comprehensive and meaningful accountability. There should be a speedy settlement to the conflict, whilst maintaining Ethiopia’s physical integrity. The steps taken by the Government, including the Dialogue Commission, were noted. The commitment of both sides to an African Union-led end to the hostilities was commended. Some speakers supported the renewal of the Commission’s mandate and encouraged all parties to fully cooperate with the Commission.

A number of speakers said the work of the Commission should be based on impartiality, non-bias, non-selectivity, with respect for the sovereignty of Ethiopia. The Commission had chosen to ignore the guidance provided in the resolution, resulting in it reaching unbalanced conclusions based on insufficient information. Since the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights rested with States, international mechanisms should only play complementary roles. In this regard, the Commission was urged to focus on supporting the Government’s ongoing efforts.

Some speakers said that the primary need of the inhabitants of Ethiopia was peace and security, and all parties to the conflict should take the necessary steps to ensure the dignity and safety of all civilians. There should be an immediate cessation of hostilities. The Commission required time and finances to complete its mandate, particularly with regard to the difficulty that it faced in visiting the conflict area. The Government had failed to live up to international standards of transparency. The work of the Commission as a form of deterrence was vital, and it should have its mandate renewed, as the scale of the atrocities did, in some areas, amount to war crimes, and it was necessary for its work to continue. Independent reports had supported the findings of the Commission that what happened in Tigray amounted to war crimes.

The Government should immediately cease to target Tigray and civilians in the area, some speakers said. Member States should recognise the rights of all victims to live free from violence and persecution. The Commission should investigate whether genocide was being or had been perpetrated against the inhabitants of the Tigray region. The international community should act urgently to restore peace and stability to the region, and given the situation, it should be urgently referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation.

Concluding Remarks

RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Member of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, said that the Commission had held constructive discussions with all national institutions in Addis Ababa. It would consider how to work more closely with these institutions while maintaining its impartiality. The outbreak of war had a causal relationship with various human rights abuses. They needed to promote processes for justice at national, regional and local levels. The Commission expected the Council to remain seized of the issues presented and to continue to monitor the situation. It urged the Council to work towards stopping hostilities and holding those responsible for abuses accountable.

STEVEN RATNER, Member of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, said that the Commission had examined violations that were of particular gravity. The Government had been working hard to secure access for humanitarian organizations to provide support. The Commission looked forward to working with national institutions, providing them with advice about accountability and transitional justice. It aimed to write reports that did not take sides in the conflict and maintained its impartiality.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Independent InternationalCommission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/51/45).

Presentation of Report

PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said today, Syrians faced increasing and intolerable hardships, living among the ruins of this lengthy conflict. Millions were suffering in displacement camps, while resources were becoming scarcer, donor fatigue was rising, and now there was a cholera outbreak. The war was not over despite a general reduction in fighting. Hostilities were intensifying on several fronts. Attacks kept claiming civilian lives and damaging key civilian infrastructure, including food and water resources, in the midst of a drought.

The armed conflict was only one aspect of the hardships that Syrian civilians were facing. It was widely recognised that unilateral sanctions often resulted in unintended harmful consequences on populations. Fundamental freedoms, including of movement, expression, association and peaceful assembly, remained heavily restricted throughout Syria. Activists, journalists and others expressing opposing views were subjected to intimidation, threats or arrest, depending on which party controlled the area in which they resided. The Secretary-General’s urgent report on this issue contained a clear recommendation for the establishment of an international body, as called for by families and survivors, focusing strongly on victims and survivors and inclusive of families as soon as possible. It must focus on clarifying the fate and whereabouts of missing persons. It must also provide adequate support to victims, survivors, and the families of the missing. It must address the gendered impact of disappearances, notably female relatives of the missing, and especially those who were particularly vulnerable.

Statement by Country Concerned

Syria, speaking as a country concerned, said Human Rights Council resolutions and reports targeting individual States continued to be governed by double standards and Western interventionist agendas, contradicting the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations. Syria had rejected the creation of the Commission of Inquiry and the extensions of its mandate, and it rejected its politicised and biased reports. The latest report ignored the nature of the terrorist war targeting Syria and the external factors supporting the establishment of armed terrorist groups, which included thousands of foreign terrorists, that continued to commit crimes on Syrian territory. Fabricated narratives promoted on social media platforms by hostile countries and parties were presented as facts in the Commission's report. The Commission had distorted the efforts of the Syrian State to protect its people, provide for their basic needs, achieve national reconciliation, and facilitate the return of displaced persons and refugees.

One million people in Al-Hasakah Governorate had been deprived of water for more than 50 days continuously by the Turkish occupation. Unilateral coercive measures violated the human rights of the Syrian people and harmed their living and humanitarian conditions. The Syrian Government, in cooperation with friendly countries and United Nations agencies, continued to work to strengthen and expand the humanitarian response to improve access to basic services, strengthen early recovery activities and restore infrastructure. Immediately and unconditionally lifting the economic blockade targeting the Syrian people was the gateway to ending their suffering and to ensuring their enjoyment of human rights, which were being violated as a result of unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States and the European Union.

The application of the amnesty decree was an ongoing national and sovereign process. Syria reaffirmed its commitment to promoting and protecting the human rights of its people, and to cooperating with treaty bodies and non-discriminatory mechanisms in the Human Rights Council. It totally rejected the accusations contained in the Commission's report.

Discussion

In the interactive discussion, some speakers commended the work of the Commission and expressed concern about the deteriorating security, humanitarian and socio-economic situation in Syria. They condemned continued, serious violations of human rights committed by Syrian authorities. Violations included the systematic use of arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence by the Syrian authorities against the civilian population, and the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and mosques through airstrikes and attacks. Enforced disappearances and gender-based violence were common, and children and persons with disabilities were increasingly targeted. The conflict had displaced millions of innocent civilians.

The international community’s efforts to address this issue had failed, one speaker said. All parties to the conflict must respect international humanitarian and human rights law, some speakers said, calling for a nation-wide ceasefire. More measures needed to be taken to bring an end to impunity. Authorities needed to cease torturing civilians in detention. Impartial and credible investigations of attacks against civilians needed to be carried out. Some speakers called for the situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Many speakers called for resolution 2254 of the Security Council to be implemented.

More than 80 per cent of the Syrian population required humanitarian aid, some speakers said. Damages to the water system had led to an outbreak of cholera. Syria was not a safe place to return for refugees. Safe and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations, including to places of detention, was critical, some speakers said. Humanitarian aid needed to reach the most vulnerable groups. States needed to facilitate the safe return of displaced persons to their homeland. Some speakers supported the Commission’s recommendation to establish an independent mechanism to support victims, survivors and families of the missing.

A number of speakers said that the Commission’s report was based on fabricated information and was politically motivated. Specific mandates imposed on countries without their consent went against the United Nations Charter and principles of the Council. The Council should not interfere with the internal affairs and the sovereignty of States. Some speakers said that the Commission’s mandate was based on geopolitical interests and double standards, and should not be extended. The Council should work to support the fight against international terrorism that was impacting Syria, and work to achieve peace through dialogue.

Some speakers said that the Commission’s report had ignored the actions of other States, such as shelling and attacks on civilians and blocking of fuel and food supplies. The unilateral coercive measures imposed upon Syria made it difficult for people to secure basic livelihoods, and should be condemned. One speaker said that the resources needed for the Commission and the proposed mechanism for supporting victims would be better spent on humanitarian efforts agreed upon with the Government.

Concluding Remarks

LYNN WELCHMAN, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said the Commission had put up a document on its website containing recommendations for those Member States providing support, in order to condition such support on full compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law and the need to protect civilians. On the steps which the international community could take to prevent violations and enhance accountability and other measures, there were other documents available. As Syria appeared to be unable or unwilling to bring alleged perpetrators to trial, it had come down from looking at the activation of local jurisdictions to the principles of international jurisdiction.

Nobody had asked a question on women, children and sex- or gender-based violence, but there were a lot of women-headed households, and women were always impacted differently in conflict, and at this point in the conflict they were suffering greatly. In terms of food security, women were impacted differently throughout the world and they made up the majority of internally displaced persons in camps. Domestic violence was on the rise. Women were disproportionally affected by arbitrary disappearances.

HANNY MEGALLY, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said the first call for action came from the families of the missing and disappeared. Eventually a study had come out from Syria saying there was a need for international assistance in this area. The Commission had examined this area, and had produced several reports, which also found that there was need for international action and more than what existed at the moment on the issue.

The General Assembly had asked the Secretary-General to study the situation and report back. A report had been issued a few weeks ago, and clearly called for the need for an international mechanism of some type, recognising that it should build on the work already done nationally and internationally on the issue of the disappeared. Investigations into the disappeared contained a number of pitfalls, and investigators, in particular women, were often at great risk. It was important to consider what would be the next steps: there was now a discussion and a potential resolution at the General Assembly, in which families and others were looking for Member States to establish the above-mentioned entity, and move it forward. It could be established quickly, and this was the time to act and move forward.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burundi

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi (A/HRC/51/44).

Presentation of Report

FORTUNE GAETAN ZONGO, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, said that it was essential today that Burundi reaffirmed its commitment and agreed to commit itself more effectively to advancing human rights. The report highlighted progress in the fight against trafficking in human beings in Burundi. Legal proceedings had been initiated and several investigations and prosecutions were ongoing. Offenders had been convicted and victims had received assistance. The country had also institutionalised anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officers, and the Government had adopted a law regulating migration in Burundi.

However, there was significant selective impunity regarding the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of serious crimes.

The human rights situation had not changed substantially. Establishing accountability was one of the keys to lasting peace, as was the need for deeper institutional reforms. The period since 2015 had given rise to serious and massive violations of human rights, including violations of the right to liberty and security; violations of the right to life through extrajudicial executions; torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and rape; arbitrary arrests; and enforced disappearances. There were still restrictions on freedom of association, with hundreds of human rights defenders and media professionals in exile. There was extreme poverty reinforced by the high cost of living, a fuel shortage, poor access to health care and education, a food crisis and high youth unemployment.

The Arusha Agreements for peace and reconciliation in Burundi signed in 2000 remained relevant and served as a benchmark for achieving lasting peace. Effective implementation of international human rights law could prevent the cycles of violence in Burundi. The fight against impunity required adequate remedies for all victims, recognition of their suffering, and institutional reforms. Establishing and acknowledging the truth would help to recognise victims and encourage their social reintegration. Regrettably, there had been little progress on aspects of the transitional justice agenda, in particular with regard to accountability, reparations, land restitution and security and justice sector reform. A system for the protection of victims and witnesses of human rights violations needed to be established.

Human rights organizations faced reprisals, while laws on foreign non-governmental organizations and on the press limited democratic space and strengthened Government control. Mr. Zongo deplored a statement by the Secretary-General of the ruling party in August 2022 calling on the Imbonerakure to continue night patrols and kill any "troublemakers". Civilian groups should not perform sovereign functions without foundation and with impunity.

Mr. Zongo said that he remained mobilised and committed to working alongside the Burundian authorities to improve the human rights situation. He would continue to monitor the situation to identify areas for action, and propose recommendations for the improvement of the human rights situation.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Burundi, speaking as a country concerned, said that Burundi was fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and complied with its international obligations in that regard. Human rights were central to the Constitution, and it was the duty of the Government to ensure that they were respected. The situation had been improving every year in all sectors of life in the country, and a number of reforms had been initiated in terms of good governance, social justice, freedom of the press, civil and political rights, and national reconciliation, among others. The Government had taken the appropriate measures to reduce prison overcrowding, with the freeing of over 5,000 prisoners. A number of corrupt judges had been removed, and instruments revised to ensure the rule of law above all.

The Government had reopened civil society organizations that had been suspended since 2015, and had encouraged the voluntary return of certain human rights defenders and political figures. The Government had reopened media operations which had been closed since 2015, including certain radio stations, and all persons in Burundi could express themselves freely and without taboo on all matters in the country. There were a number of national mechanisms which worked on a daily basis for the promotion and protection of human rights, including the National Human Rights Commission.

Internationally, Burundi was working with international mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review and the regional offices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Government had placed the issue of gender equality among its priorities in all sectors of national life, both public and private. The situation had improved, and the Human Rights Council should not miss this opportunity to remove Burundi from its agenda, as it was unfair and irrelevant to retain the special mechanism. The Special Rapporteur on Burundi should have his mandate ended.

National Human Rights Commission of Burundi wished the Council to recognise the efforts made to improve the situation in Burundi. The High Council of Judges had been restructured to ensure impartiality and proper application of the law. Reforms were underway to reduce corruption, and ensure the rule of justice for all. Many cases on corruption were being addressed, with the removal of over 30 judges. The reduction of prison overcrowding was welcomed. The Commission was able to consolidate its mission and work for the promotion and protection of human rights both nationally and with its international partners. The international community should assess Burundi’s efforts and support these, rather than supporting efforts that would not be successful. The Commission was able to carry out its efforts fully.

 

Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media;
not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.

 

HRC22.095E