Syria: New Report Exposes Policy of Crimes Against Humanity and Echoes OHCHR call for UN Security Council to Refer Situation to the ICC, Russia Introduces Draft Resolution to Security Council

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on 15 December on the situation in Syria, which identified the names of 74 Syrian military commanders and intelligence officials who bear individual and command responsibility for allegedly ordering, authorizing, or condoning, “widespread killings, torture, and unlawful arrests during the 2011 anti-government protests.” 

Based on interviews with 63 defectors, the report sheds light on the use of “all means necessary”to quell civilian protests, including a blatant ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, the use of torture, and unlawful arrests and detentions, all of which were ordered by commanders and officials from the Syrian military and intelligence services. The report also documents the chilling repercussions for soldiers and agents who did not follow orders to fire on civilian protesters, who were executed, tortured or beaten on the orders of military commanders and intelligence officials.

The press release for the report states, “The defectors’ statements leave no doubt that the Syrian security forces committed widespread and systematic abuses, including killings, arbitrary detention, and torture, as part of a state policy targeting the civilian population…These abuses constitute crimes against humanity.” Despite these allegations, the report documents an inadequate response on behalf of the Syrian government to hold individual perpetrators accountable. As such, HRW urges for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it asserts is, “the forum most capable of effectively investigating and prosecuting those bearing the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed and offering accountability to the Syrian people.”

The report also explicitly called on the Russian government to cease its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and urged Russia to end its opposition to Security Council Action on Syria, and halt the sale of arms to the country. In previous posts, we have documented Russia’s strategic interests in Syria, which have effectively stymied strong Security Council action.

HRW’s report comes on the heels of UN officials condemning the Assad regime for its continued crackdown. On 10 December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke out against President Assad, stating that, “as a leader of Syria [Bashar al-Assad] is responsible for all that has happened” in the country. Ban urged the Syrian President to uphold his responsibility to protect civilians and immediately stop the killing of civilians.

On 12 December, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the country. Pillay estimated that the death toll in Syria has risen to over 5,000 as a result of the government’s crackdown and increasingly violent skirmishes between the Syrian military and defectors, who have now organized under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. The High Commissioner for Human Rights also warned of the potential for a major assault on the city of Homs, which has been a central town of the uprising, citing increased activity by the Syrian military in the surrounding area. In response to the deteriorating situation, Pillay reiterated her calls for the Security Council to take action by referring the situation in the country to the ICC, stating, “The Fact-Finding Mission, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and I myself have all stated that we believe crimes against humanity have been committed in Syria. Inaction by the international community will embolden Syrian authorities, and ensure perpetrators go unpunished.”

Twitter has been abuzz with reports that Russia introduced a draft resolution on the situation in Syria before the Security Council. Barbara Plett (@BBCBarbaraPlett) of the BBC tweeted on 15 December that the Brazilian Ambassador to the UN stated that Russia was set to introduce a draft, and confirmed this with a tweet that the Russian delegation indicated that Security Council members welcomed the draft and were open to negotiations.

Colum Lynch (@columlynch) of the Washington Post and Foreign Policy tweeted that European countries on the Council saw the draft as too lenient towards the Assad regime, as diplomats said it presented Syrian authorities and the opposition as equally responsible for the violence. A following tweet by Plett suggests that Western diplomats on the Security Council will seek a resolution that is tougher on Assad through negotiations. Denis Fitzgerald, a UN reporter, tweeted that the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom welcomed the Russian draft, but that, “it does not match the gravity of the situation as described by Navi Pillay.”

A tweet by Germany’s Permanent Mission to the UN citing Ambassador Witting seemed to confirm this, stating, “We welcome Russia finally sees need to address #Syria in #UNSC. Current draft will not suffice, but we’ll try to bridge the gaps.”

The draft version of the Russian resolution is available here.

We’ll be following this story as it continues to unfold, and encourage you to follow us on Twitter @ICRtoP.

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Filed under RtoP, Syria, UN

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