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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' Statement on Syria, February 2012

Published February 13, 2012

The UN released this press release on February 13, 2012; it describes the statement made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, regarding Syria. Statements by UN delegations follow the her words.

Expressing outrage at the Syrian Government's violent 11-month crackdown on opposition protesters, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told the General Assembly today that credible reports of "serious violations" — including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, arbitrary detention and torture — pointed to possible crimes against humanity and required an immediate international response.

"The Government of Syria has manifestly failed its obligation to protect its population; each and every member of the international community must act now to protect [this] population," declared Navi Pillay during a briefing for Member States. The meeting had been convened by Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar to consider the report of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on its 2 December special session on the situation in Syria (see Background).

Noting the extreme difficulty in ascertaining the exact number of deaths since the popular uprising began last spring, she said "well above" 5,400 people had been killed, tens of thousands — including children — had been arrested, with more that 18,000 reportedly still being arbitrarily detained. While the protests had remained largely peaceful, reports of armed opposition attacks against Syrian forces had increased, also with consequences on civilians. According to the Syrian Government, some 2,000 military and security personnel had been killed, she added.

Yet, the nature and scale of abuses by the Syrian Government indicated that crimes against humanity were likely to have been committed since March 2011. "Independent, credible and corroborating accounts indicate that these abuses have taken place as part of a widespread and systematic attack on civilians," she said, noting, for example, that security forces employed a "shoot-to-kill" policy to crush the peaceful protests. Taken as a whole, the breadth and pattern of attacks by military and security, and the widespread destruction of homes, hospitals and schools "indicate approval or complicity by authorities at the highest level."

All this was made worse by the Security Council's failure last week to agree on firm collective action to stop the violence, which had seemingly emboldened the Syrian Government to launch an all out assault in an effort to crush dissent. "I am very distressed that the continued ruthless repression and deliberate stirring of sectarian tensions might soon plunge Syria into civil war," she said, warning that the longer it took the international community to act, the more the civilian population would suffer from countless atrocities committed against them.

Ms. Pillay said she was particularly appalled by the ongoing onslaught on Homs, where, since 3 February, in further escalation of its assault, the Syrian Government had used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to pummel that city, reportedly killing some 300 people. Due to heavy shelling, residents had been effectively trapped in areas under attack. Shells had even struck at least three makeshift clinics, resulting in casualties. Electricity and communication had been cut off in some neighbourhoods.

Echoing the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, she said the people of Syria were asking for the rights that every human being was entitled to "and they are looking for this Assembly to speak with one voice to support them in this endeavour."

In his opening remarks, President Al-Nasser stressed that the League of Arab States had taken strong initiatives to promote a peaceful solution, including the 22 January adoption of a new plan to resolve the Syrian crisis. Yet, when the Security Council had failed to adopt a resolution supporting the Arab plan, he had expressed concern about the divisions in its members regarding the situation in Syria.

But, the longer the [Council] remained divided, "the more difficult the situation becomes, with more Syrians being killed daily", he said, emphasizing that the international community should call on Syrian authorities to end the killings immediately and to put a halt to human rights violations. "All parties in Syria should stop all violence and reprisals, in accordance with the League of Arab States' initiatives," he said

Before the debate began, Syria's representative argued that the meeting was a violation of its own procedures because the General Assembly resolution that had created the Council allowed the High Commissioner to report only once during its session. "We cannot manipulate procedural regulations for political gains" he said, calling for a legal opinion on the matter "independent of the President of the General Assembly". The representative of Syria, however, refused to call for a vote on the Assembly President's ruling to affirm holding the meeting to consider the report of the Human Rights Council directly in the plenary meeting "without setting a precedent", and the meeting was gavelled to order.

During the debate itself, Syria's representative said that the main reason for the "continuing of the regrettable situation" in his country was the lack of a proper international environment that included respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-intervention. "It was as if all the Charter of the United Nations was being ignored, and a new draft was being written," he said. The main purposed of those aligned against him was to undermine his country, not end the violence.

He said the High Commissioner ignored the attacks on his country, including the sanctions imposed on it. Pointing to bombings in Aleppo and Damascus on Government targets, which led to scores of deaths and injuries, he said suicide bombings were a speciality of al-Qaida, an organization that all here had agreed to condemn. There were reports that al-Qaida was responsible for the suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. "Stop killing my people […] Instead help the Syrian Government protect its people," he appealed. He wanted Syria to retain its right to be able to conduct reforms without outside interference.

When other delegations took the floor, most welcomed the High Commissioner's briefing and agreed that all violence in Syria must stop. There was also high praise for the Arab League's ongoing efforts to reach a peaceful solution that included a broad national dialogue. However, divisions emerged over the way forward, with many of the nearly 35 speakers expressing dismay at the failure of the Security Council to take a decisive decision that would have condemned the violence and demanded concrete action on the part of the Syrian Government to protect its people and respect their rights.

Several said the scale of the violence had made the international community's "responsibility to protect" more urgent than territorial integrity. Yet, several other speakers categorically rejected foreign intervention and called for political dialogue among the Syrian parties. They feared the Syrian Government was being singled out and that plans were under way to force regime change.

The representative of the United Kingdom was among those who echoed Ms. Pillay's assertion that the Syrian authorities, emboldened by the vetoes in the Security Council, had stepped up its violence and repression. The international community must seek a rapid, peaceful resolution, as Damascus had shown over the past year it would not carry out any reforms. As such, a clear signal must be sent to the Syrian people that they were not abandoned. Full support must be given to the League of Arab States' efforts, and it must be clearly demonstrated that those who commit terrible crimes would be held accountable

China's representative stressed that constructive dialogue and cooperation was the only right way to promote and protect human rights. While he supported the Arab League and other regional efforts to resolve the issue peacefully, he said the actions of the Security Council should comply with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the basic norms governing international relations, and help to ease tensions, promote political dialogue, diffuse disputes and help maintain regional peace and stability, rather than complicate the issue. "Sanctions and pressures are not conducive to proper settlement of problems," he said.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Egypt (on behalf of the Arab Group), Libya, Saudi Arabia (on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council), Tunisia, Russian Federation, France, Japan, United States, Switzerland, Venezuela, Canada, Cuba, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Norway, Australia, Portugal, Chile, Lichtenstein, Indonesia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Nicaragua, Belarus, Italy, Israel, New Zealand, India and Turkey.

The Assembly was also addressed by the Head of the Delegation of the European Union.

The representative of Syria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The representatives of Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea also spoke on a point of order.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.

Background

When the General Assembly met this morning to consider the report of the Human Rights Council and hear a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, delegations had before them a report of the Council's eighteenth special session (document A/66/53/Add.2). That special session, held on 2 December 2011, dealt with the situation in Syria and adopted a resolution on that country and forwarded it to the Assembly for consideration and possible action.

By that resolution, the Human Rights Council deplored the Syrian Government's refusal to implement fully Council resolutions S-16/1 and S-17/1, and its continued non-cooperation with the independent commission of inquiry, in particular the continued lack of access to the country afforded to the commission. It also expressed the Council's deep concern at "all ongoing grave violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities against their population, including civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights."

The Council strongly condemned the "continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms" by the Syrian authorities, including arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders and journalists, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, including of children.

The Council urged the Syrian Government to meet its responsibility to protect its population, to immediately put an end to all human rights violations, to stop any attacks against civilians and to comply fully with its obligations under international human rights law, and called for an immediate end to all violence in the country. The Council also called on that Government to initiate prompt, independent and impartial investigations in accordance with international standards to end impunity, ensure accountability and bring perpetrators to justice.

Procedural Matters

The representative of Syria objected to the convening of the meeting and called for its cancellation, citing provisions of a General Assembly resolution that required the Human Rights Council to report to the Third Committee and the General Assembly once every year on matters related to the October to September period of the previous year, including all resolutions in its report. He said that the current report was related to matters that took place after the period under consideration by the sixty-sixth General Assembly. The report should be considered in the sixty-seventh session, in accordance with established practice. He appealed to the President to be fair, objective and just and to not allow history to record that under his term, the rules of procedure were violated.

Following the President's ruling to affirm holding the meeting to consider the report directly in the plenary meeting without setting a precedent, the representative of Syria took the floor again and said that his delegation saw no merit in the decision to hold the meeting. Prior to any discussion, he requested a legal, independent opinion unrelated to that of the presidency, along with an opportunity for delegations to make their views known. Otherwise, the negative repercussions could reverberate for many years to come.

The President then asked if the representative of Syria was formally challenging the President's ruling, which would mean an appeal against the ruling, which could immediately be put to a vote.

The representative of Syria replied that he did not ask for anything to be put to a vote, but appealed for fairness on the basis of the rules of the Assembly.

Iran's representative, recognized as raising a point of order, said he wished that prior consultations had been held, in the General Committee or other multilateral arrangements, before the meeting was announced. Even in exceptional situations, procedures must be done according to the rules in a neutral and transparent manner, he said. Acting otherwise would set a deeply negative precedent. He asked that fair procedures be considered before any action taken.

The representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, also speaking on a point of order, also concurred with the point of view of the representative of Syria on the procedural matter.

The President then read the applicable rules related to putting an appeal to a ruling to a vote. He then announced he would put to the vote the challenge to the President's ruling.

Syria's representative, however, said his objection was a substantive one, proceeding from the requirements of General Assembly resolution 65/281. Putting the challenge to the vote would go against those requirements, which were adopted by consensus. The substance of a resolution previously adopted by the General Assembly could not be put to a vote. Anyone from this day on would be able to challenge the legitimacy of 65/281. He reiterated that he did not seek a vote.

The President then asked again if the Assembly concurred with considering the report of the Human Rights Council directly in the plenary, without setting a precedent. The decision was adopted and the meeting continued.

Statement by General Assembly President

Continuing the meeting, NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar), General Assembly President, reminded delegations that the Assembly had not yet considered the Human Rights Council's report (document A/66/53/Add.2), but that it contained that body's resolution on the human rights situation in Syria, which refers to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on that country. The Commission's report, published on 23 November 2011, had indicated gross and systematic human rights violations had been committed by the Syrian authorities and members of the Syrian military and security forces, throughout the country. That report had also stated that crimes against humanity had been committed in Syria.

He said that the Syrian authorities had refused to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry, and they had not given those envoys access to Syrian territory. The League of Arab States had taken strong initiatives to promote a peaceful solution to the crisis, including its adoption on 2 November of an action plan and sending an observer mission to Syria. That mission had had to be suspended on 28 January due to the critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence. He said that on 22 January, the Arab League had adopted a new plan to resolve the Syrian crisis, commending the role of that regional body, especially in light of the call made by the United Nations Charter on cooperation with regional and subregional bodies in the maintenance of international peace and security.

"The Security Council has been unable to adopt a resolution supporting the Arab plan. I have expressed my concern about the division of the Security Council. The longer the [Council} remains divided in adopting a position on the developments in Syria, the more difficult the situation becomes, with more Syrians being killed daily," he said, adding that he was also deeply concerned about the ongoing violence. The international community should call on Syrian authorities to end the killings immediately and to put a halt to human rights violations. "All parties in Syria should stop all violence and reprisals, in accordance with the League of Arab States' initiatives," he said, adding that several Member States had contacted him to express their concern and the need for the Assembly to debate the issue. It was his duty as Assembly President to allow delegations to express their views. In light of all the events over the past few weeks, he had asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to brief Member States on the situation in Syria.

Briefing by High Commissioner for Human Rights

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, recalled that the worsening human rights situation in Syria had prompted the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to hold three special sessions between late April and early December of 2011. In the first session, the Council had unequivocally condemned violations in Syria and had requested her Office to urgently dispatch a fact-finding mission to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in Syria. That mission had concluded its investigation in August, finding that crimes against humanity might have been committed in Syria. That report was formally presented to the Human Rights Council in its eighteenth regular session on 19 September 2011.

She went on to recall that the Council, expressing its ongoing concern with human rights violations in Syria, had subsequently decided to establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. It also decided to transmit the report or the Commission to the General Assembly. Among its other actions, the Council adopted on 2 December a resolution which strongly condemned the violations and decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Syria. The Council had also recommended that the main bodies of the United Nations urgently consider the report of the Commission and take appropriate action. The findings of the Commission corroborated the results of the fact-finding mission.

Updating Member States on the situation, she said that the violent crackdown on peaceful protests demanding freedom, dignity and social justice in Syria had continued unabated for 11 months. "While no exact figures can be provided due to our lack of access to the country, credible reports indicate that Syrian security forces killed well above 5,400 people last year, including civilians as well as military personnel who refused to shoot civilians," she said.

Due to the extreme difficulties in substantiating the events on the ground, it had become nearly impossible to update the death toll in the past two months. However, her Office was certain that the number of dead and injured continued to rise daily. Indeed, tens of thousands, including children, had been arrested, with more that 18,000 reportedly still in arbitrarily held in detention. Thousands more had been reported missing and some 25,000 people were estimated to have sought refuge in neighbouring and other countries. Some 70,000 were estimated to be internally displaced, she added. While the protests had remained largely peaceful, reports of armed attacks by anti-Government fighters against Syrian forces had increased, also with consequences on civilians. According to the Syrian Government, some 2,000 military and security personnel had been killed.

"I am particularly appalled by the ongoing onslaught on Homs," where, she said, since 3 February, in further escalation of its assault, the Syrian Government had used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to pummel that city. According to credible accounts, the Syrian army had shelled densely populated neighbourhoods in Homs in what appeared to be "an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas". More than 300 people had reportedly been killed in the city since the start of that assault 10 days ago, the majority of them victims of shelling. She said that reports indicated that hospitals, which had already been struggling to cope with all those that had been injured in recent weeks, were now overwhelmed. Shells had even struck at least three makeshift clinics, resulting in casualties. Due to heavy shelling residents had been effectively trapped in areas under attack. Electricity and communication had been cut off in some neighbourhoods.

"The humanitarian situation in Homs is simply deplorable. Similar accounts of intensifying assault and worsening of the humanitarian situation have been received from Zabadani, Dar'a, and al-Rastan. The risk of humanitarian crisis throughout Syria is rising," she said, stressing that the failure last week of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appeared to have emboldened the Syrian Government to launch an all out assault in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force. Recalling the recent remarks of the Secretary-General, she said that lack of agreement in the Council did not give the Syrian authorities license to step up attacks on the Syrian people. No Government could commit such acts against its people without legitimacy being eroded. T he Secretary-General had also emphasized that the "appalling brutality" the world was witnessing in Homs "is a harbinger of worse to come".

She went on to say that the nature and scale of the abuses committed by Syrian forces indicated that crimes against humanity were likely to have been committed since March 2011. The breadth and pattern of the systematic attacks against civilians by the military and security forces, and the widespread destruction of homes, hospitals and schools, "indicate approval or complicity of the authorities at the highest levels". She said that since the protests had begun, security forces and Government-supported Shabbiha militias had been responsible for killing thousands of people through attacks on peaceful protests and in large-scale military operations in several cities. "They have used a 'shoot-to-kill' policy to crush the peaceful protests," she said, adding that several defectors from the Syrian forces had said that they had received orders from their commanders to shoot unarmed protesters on sight.

She said that civilians had born the brunt of the violence, and, during blockades and curfews, many had not been allowed to obtain food, water or medical supplies. Hospitals had been used as detention and torture facilities. Ambulances had come under fire, and evidence indicated that doctors and medical workers had been pursued, arrested and tortured. She also cited extensive reports of sexual violence, in particular rape in places of detention, primarily against men and boys, as "particularly disturbing". Children had not been spared; they had been beaten, killed by sniper fire and shelling, and subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention. As of the end of January, some 400 children had reportedly been killed.

"I am outraged by these serious violations. I am very distressed that the continued ruthless repression and deliberate stirring of sectarian tensions might soon plunge Syria into civil war," she said, warning that the longer it took the international community to act, the more the civilian population would suffer from countless atrocities committed against them. The Assembly had adopted in December a resolution condemning the human rights violations and use of force against civilians by Syrian authorities. However, gross, widespread and systematic human rights violations had not only continued, but escalated sharply. "The Government of Syria has manifestly failed its obligation to protect its population; each and every member of the international community must act now to protect [this] population," she declared.

She urged the League of Arab States to continue its efforts to compel Syria to end the violence, and said that her Office stood ready to provide appropriate assistance in that regard. She said that international and independent monitors, including her Office and the independent Commission of Inquiry, must also be allowed into Syria. Humanitarians must be guaranteed immediate, unhindered access. The fact-finding Mission, the Commission of Inquiry and she herself had all concluded that crimes against humanity were likely to have been committed in Syria. Those crimes were continuing, as the Assembly met. She had encouraged the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. "The international community must ensure that these crimes do not go unpunished. All Member States must make it clear to the Syrian Government that the violence must end now," she said, urging the Assembly to speak in "one voice" on the matter.

Statements

BASHAR JA'AFARI (Syria) expressed surprise that the President of the General Assembly had rejected seeking an independent legal opinion on whether proper procedures were being followed, instead imposing his opinion. It was counter to democratic principles. In addition, for the first time in his career as a diplomat, he saw the High Commissioner for Human Rights making an accusation that his country was violating human rights from reports alone, without proper investigation. How can the Commissioner now be trusted? The main reason for the continuing of the regrettable situation in his country was the lack of a proper international environment that included respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-intervention. "It was as if all the Charter of the United Nations was being ignored, and a new draft was being written," he said. The main purpose of those aligned against him was to undermine his country, not end the violence.

The High Commissioner ignored the attacks on his country, including the sanctions imposed on it. Pointing to bombings in Aleppo and Damascus on Government targets, which led to scores of deaths and injuries, he said suicide bombings were a speciality of Al-Qaida, an organization that all here had agreed to condemn. There were reports that Al-Qaida was responsible for the suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. He hoped that the High Commissioner reported that in her next report. Every sovereign State had the exclusive right and responsibility to protect its citizens. He would never imagine sending soldiers to protect civilians in London. It was known that armed groups were daily committing assassinations of important people all over Iraq to undermine the State. His country's enemies wanted that to continue, so that if the State were undermined, humanitarian corridors would have to be created and eventually a no-fly zone — with the excuse that there was no State that could protect its civilians. "Stop killing my people […] Instead help the Syrian Government protect its people," he appealed. He wanted Syria to retain its right to be able to conduct reforms without outside interference.

He noted United Nations attempts to coordinate efforts to counter the threat of Al-Qaeda. He asked how that could go on at the same time as certain States were supporting Al-Qaida in committing terrorist acts inside Syria. Leaders of Al-Qaida were calling for their elements to converge in Syria crossing over borders from neighbouring countries. Al-Qaida was even declaring the deaths of its operatives in Syria on its website. It was strange that the President of the General Assembly did not take up those terrorist acts. It was known that the opposition had taken up arms and were being encouraged by member States. That was incitement to terrorism. The Gulf Cooperation Council was part of the problem, not part of the solution. Qatar was now hosting armed opposition groups that refused national dialogue and cooperation with reform. He called on the President of the Assembly to hold up his responsibility to fight terrorism, and he reaffirmed his own country's right to fight terrorism.

A special meeting on the membership in the United Nations on Palestine, to put an end to the occupation, would have been welcome, he said, but political hypocrisy ruled that out. Israel had its protectors.

In his country, entire buildings had been mined by terrorist groups so they could be remotely exploded. Those were the pictures seen on television. "This is not peaceful demonstration", he said. "This is violence." He stressed that anyone who committed a violent act must be brought to national justice, not the "YouTube justice" of Al Jazeera and other media outlets. He reiterated that the Human Rights Council merely accepted information from opposition forces. They represented very few of Syria's 23 million people, which had a greater population than all of the countries on the Gulf Council. His country had promoted democratic reform and respect for human rights in the Arab League, but the initiative was rejected there and by the Gulf Council. He pledged, however, that he would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with other Arab countries to defend them.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, was the only country that continued to use the sword for executions, he said. His country had quickly adopted a reform programme meant to promote the widest possible participation and respect for all human rights. He said that national dialogue was the only way forward to reform and his country was committed to it. Unfortunately, as his country embarked on that programme, it was beset by armed elements who were supported from abroad. Killing professors and doctors was not reform. He acknowledged that his country had problems, but asked what country did not. He asked support for reform in his country that respected its long history and civilization. The current resolution was an attempt to accomplish what had not been done at the Security Council, by coming to the back door of the General Assembly.

Finally, he noted that on Google Maps some street names had been changed in the city of Homs and elsewhere in his country. That was a flagrant violation of his country's sovereignty, and it would not help protect civilians. It was part of the war that he was discussing.

Before giving the floor to the next speaker, President AL-NASSER reminded delegations that while very wide latitude was traditionally allowed for statements and interventions, "a line must be drawn" so that dignity and decorum would be maintained in the Assembly.

OSAMA ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that its delegation appreciated the High Commissioner's briefing, which sent a "critical and important message to the international community" on the need to move immediately to put an end to killing and other acts of violence in Syria. He stressed the need to implement all decisions and resolutions of the Arab League on the situation, including the road map for a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, and for the Government to act in accordance with Arab initiatives in that regard. He said that, as Chair of the Arab Group, Egypt planned to submit a draft resolution shortly to Member States, stressing all terms of reference adopted by the Arab League. He looked forward to the support of the Assembly when the text was considered.

IBRAHIM O. A. DABBASHI ( Libya) also thanked the High Commissioner for her valuable briefing on the situation in Syria. For 11 months, the Syrian people had suffered under all forms of intimidation, killing and torture at the hands of its Government, for the entire world to see. Yet, the Syrian people had actually been suffering for years. The family of President Bashar al-Assad had tormented the Syrian people in a manner that was similar to the way Muammar al-Qadhafi had oppressed Libyans. Indeed, the two "devilish" regimes had never considered developing their countries or promoting the welfare of their people, choosing instead to develop tools of oppression. The Assad family had killed thousands of people in Syria during the 1980s, just as the late Libyan leader and his cronies had killed thousands of people in Libya. The Syrian regime had benefitted from the crimes of its despotic leaders, just as the Qadhafi regime and his family had.

However, he believed, in light of the ongoing violence in Syria, that the country's despots would meet the same fate as Mr. Qadhafi. The Syrian regime would like to benefit from the principles of territorial integrity, so they could inflict untold suffering on the Syrian people with impunity. Yet, civilians were being killed indiscriminately and tortured and detained arbitrarily, and as such, "in no way can sovereignty be invoked." Syria's representative had attempted to block debate in the Assembly today to provide cover for the Assad regime. After so many months of violence, no pretext existed for the continence of the situation. Therefore, the international community must act. "We must find a way to protect the Syrian people by actualizing the responsibility to protect," he said, also calling for discussion on the principle of safe havens, so the Syrian people could be free from the actions of their Government. Libya supported all initiatives being considered by the Arab League and the Arab Group on the matter.

ABDALLAH YAHYA A. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) supported the entire statement made by Egypt and noted that his statement would be on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as his own country. He said that the killing had continued in Syria. "Is it not time for the long night to come to an end?" he said, asking how the crimes in that country could be tolerated. Arab countries had together sought a solution to end the bloodshed, while respecting the sovereignty of Syria and to allow reform to take place without external interference. The powers that vetoed the Security Council resolution had given a green light for the bloodshed to continue. He appealed for respect for the rights of civilians. He called on all Member States to support the resolution to support the Arab Group's initiatives.

In closing, he added that actions by Israelis against Palestinians were violations of human rights that must be ended as well, with an end to the occupation. That was another situation that should be looked into with urgency.

OTHMAN JERANDI (Tunisia) said that the Human Rights Council report was a clear testimony to the tragic plight of the Syrian people. His delegation condemned the killing of civilians and reliance on the "security option". It also supported the demands of the Syrian people, which were the very demands of the Tunisian people for freedom and dignity. He demanded that the Syrian Government abide by the terms of the Arab action plan, while rejecting any foreign military intervention in any form whatsoever. Tunisia had rejected such foreign intervention in its own time of change. He reiterated the invitation to all friends of Syria to convene on 24 February in Tunis. The situation was grave. There was a dire need to prevent a major humanitarian disaster.

THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the Delegation of the European Union, was appalled by the deteriorating situation in Syria, as just a few weeks ago, the Syrian Government had agreed to a cessation of the violence, the release of all political prisoners, withdrawal of its armed forces and the unhindered freedom of movement of observers and journalists. "None of these commitments has been met," he said. Rather, the regime had continued its "ruthless and outrageous" campaign of repression against the Syrian people and the massive, gross and systematic violations of human rights.

The Union had repeatedly called for an immediate end to the violence and for a peaceful and democratic transition, he said. It also had welcomed the League of Arab States' 22 January resolution calling for a Syrian-led process to ultimately bring about a democratic political system. He deeply regretted the Security Council's inability to support that text, as the inaction had served as a pretext for the Syrian regime to backslide. Since last Saturday, the Syrian Government had "ferociously" escalated its brutal campaign throughout the country.

Noting that the European Union had expressed strong concerns at the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he said the Government must immediately allow full and unimpeded access of relief personnel from international humanitarian organizations for the timely delivery of aid to people in need. The press must be allowed to provide independent information on events without fear of violence. He hoped that the Human Rights Council would be prepared to take appropriate action on Syria at its next session, and looked forward to the next Commission of Inquiry report.

For its part, the European Union was discussing new sanctions to be approved by the Foreign Affairs Council in coming days, he said, noting its policy of imposing measures aimed exclusively at the regime would continue as long as the repression persisted. "The violence must stop now," he insisted, encouraging the Syrian opposition to make all efforts to strengthen coordination to achieve a peaceful transition to a democratic Syria. He urged the creation of a country in which all human rights were guaranteed and all Syrians were equal, regardless of their ethnicity or beliefs. The Union would continue to engage with opposition members who adhered to non-violence and democratic values.

The Union had backed the "bold" initiative of the League of Arab States, he said, also urging all members of the Security Council to assume their responsibilities and demand an end to the bloodshed. He called on the Syrian regime to immediately end the killing of civilians, withdraw the Syrian army from besieged cities and cooperate fully with the Arab League to usher in a peaceful political transition.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that his delegation regretted that today's meeting had been convened "with many procedural violations". Such actions could only undermine the Organization's credibility. It was essential that no actions be carried out that might weaken the attempts to bring about a peaceful diplomatic solution. Indeed, the Russian Federation had been at the forefront of such a movement, and on his visit to Damascus last week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had described a perfectly realistic strategy leading to such a solution. It had called for the Arab League observer mission to re-start and widen its activity, so that it could monitor violations "by whomever" and in all the hotspots. That plan had also stressed that efforts to stop the violence must be accompanied by efforts to engage in a national political dialogue.

However, for that dialogue to begin, those with influence with the opposition groups must put pressure on them to enter into peaceful talks. He said the Russian Federation strategy also sought the adoption of a new Syrian constitution and preparations for general, multi-party elections. His delegation regretted that the observer mission had been forced to suspend its activities. As for recent calls for creating a peacekeeping mission, such a mission would require the consent of the prospective host country. It would also require that there be a peace to keep. If a ceasefire were agreed, armed groups would have to be brought on board, but currently those groups did not seem to answer to anyone. In the coming days, the Russian Federation would continue to study that recommendation and hoped to clarify the legal and practical responsibilities in that area.

EMMANUEL BONNE (France) said that his delegation had been "astonished and deeply saddened" by the High Commissioner's briefing. It appeared that the situation in Syria had continued to worsen, despite the international community's calls for an end to the violence. The Syrian Government was carrying out its campaign of violence and oppression and thousands of people had been killed. The rate of killing was so high that exact figures could not be obtained. Moreover, following the "complicit" vetoes exercised last week by two members of the Security Council, Syrian authorities, using "murderous logic", believed they had carte blanche to kill their people, not hesitating to lay siege to towns and turn hospitals into torture centres.

"The Syrian regime is guilty of crimes of humanity, and impunity must come to a halt," he said, underscoring that the Syrian authorities must respond to the demands of the international community. "The double veto will not stop us. France and its partners will continue to work to put and end to the violence," he said. France would also continue to support the Arab League plan, including its calls for the transfer of power of President Assad and the initiation of national political dialogue. Indeed, that Arab-initiated plan remained the most viable option. The Assembly would shortly be presented with another call by the Arab League, one that included a recommendation to create a "group of friends" for the Syrian people. Such a group would bring together all those working for a peaceful transition in that country. Its creation would send a message to the Syrian people that the international community would not "leave them to their lot".

TSUNEO NISHIDA (Japan) said his country shared grave concern over the use of heavy weaponry against the people of Syria, including children, as well as the other findings of the report, some of which might represent crimes against humanity. He fully supported the efforts of Ms. Pillay and the Secretary-General to help the resolve the situation, and he supported the measures taken by the League of Arab States. To prevent further bloodshed, he joined calls for the prompt and full implementation of the Arab plan. Expressing deep disappointment that the Security Council could not act in a strong, unified way, he hoped the General Assembly sent a strong, unified message to the people of Syria. His country would continue to make every diplomatic effort to support a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

ROSEMARY DICARLO (United States) said that the disturbing report before the Assembly confirmed that the Assad regime was in violation of its commitments made to the League of Arab States and was instead shelling its own people. Unfortunately, international monitoring had been denied, but "the reality was completely clear and it is appalling". She called for the end to all violence immediately and adherence to the Arab plan, adding that armed opposition was not a surprise when peaceful demonstrations were brutally suppressed. She held the Government completely responsible for the cycle of violence unfolding, and stressed that that the international community must speak with one voice against it, noting the activities of her own Government in that regard. She called for unimpeded humanitarian access in Syria and fully supported the Syrian people's demands for a unified Syria with respect for human rights and protection of minorities.

PAUL SEGER (Switzerland) strongly condemned the human rights violations in Syria and called upon the authorities to immediately end the violence and allow all humanitarian actors to carry out their work. It was imperative that this issue remained on the agenda of all competent United Nations bodies, as it was the international community's duty to react when confronted with such serious violations. Switzerland deemed it necessary for the Security Council to act immediately in referring the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court.

His country endorsed the Human Rights Council's actions and called upon the Syrian Government to cooperate to the fullest extent, in particular with the Independent Commission of Inquiry and with the future Special Rapporteur. He hailed the efforts of the Secretary-General and the Arab League. "A resolution to the ongoing crisis in Syria must inevitably unfold by way of a sincere and inclusive dialogue whose objective must be the respect for and the guarantee of the human rights of the Syrian population," he concluded.

WANG MIN ( China) said constructive dialogue and cooperation was the only right way to promote and protect human rights. He called on all parties in Syria to stop the violence, avoid casualties of innocent victims, restore order in the country and respect the aspirations of the Syrian people for change and protection of their own interests. He supported Arab League and Arab country efforts to resolve the issue peacefully and properly to promote an early launch of an inclusive political process led by the Syrian people, a goal that was in the interest of Syria, Arab countries and the international community. To achieve those goals, the international community should play a positive and constructive role, he said.

The actions of the Security Council on the Syrian issue should comply with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the basic norms governing international relations, and help to ease tensions, promote political dialogue, diffuse disputes and help maintain regional peace and stability, rather than complicate the issue. He said China neither sheltered nor intentionally opposed anyone on the Syrian issue, rather his country took an objective, just and responsible approach, with a purpose of shielding the Syrian people from conflicts and warfare. Countries should refrain from resorting to the use or threat of use of force, and should not attempt to push through regime change. "Sanctions and pressures are not conducive to proper settlement of problems," he said.

JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela) said the Observer Mission of the Arab League in Syria had reported that Western media had misrepresented the reality on the ground, and that the Government had not suppressed peaceful protects by supporters and the opposition. It had revealed that political sectors opposed to President Assad had organized armed groups, including the 3,000 strong so-called "Free Syrian Army". According to the BBC, the group had been responsible for the double attack in Aleppo. He deeply regretted the loss of life — whether they were supporters of the Government or the opposition — and said popular demonstrations must be peaceful and within the existing legal and constitutional order. Imperial powers and some of their allies armed, financed, advised and trained opposition militias to overthrow the Assad Government, he said. Those powers and their allies "did not want peace, they do not care about human rights or democracy, they do not believe in political dialogue for finding a peaceful solution. They seek a regime change."

That was why they despised Russia's mediation efforts, he said, noting that in the Libyan case, the African Union's peace proposal was "demonized". To reaffirm the United Nations Charter, the international political, military, financial and media support provided to the opposition and terrorist groups in Syria must stop, he said. As clearly demonstrated in the Libyan case, the use of foreign forces to overthrow a legitimate government only created chaos, more violence and more human rights violations. "Do not allow the disastrous history of imperialist interventions in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and in many numerous countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, to happen in Syria," he said.

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom), welcoming the vital role the High Commissioner's office was playing to spread awareness of "the horrific atrocities being committed by Assad and his regime", said that, emboldened by the vetoes on the Security Council, the regime had stepped up its violence and repression, using heavy artillery against civilians to silence those who seek only to exercise legitimate democratic rights and ignoring international initiatives. He said that the Government's strategy would fail and increase the likelihood of a full-blown civil war. To prevent that, the international community must seek a rapid peaceful resolution, as the Government had shown over the past year it would not make reforms and stop the repression. A clear signal must be sent to the Syrian people that they were not abandoned. Full support must be given to the League of Arab States' efforts to ensure a peaceful transition process, and it must be clearly demonstrated that those who commit terrible crimes would be held accountable. He pledged all necessary support to take the Arab League's resolution forward in the General Assembly, and work with them as it set up the proposed group of friends.

GUILLERMO RISHCHYNSKI (Canada) deplored the egregious violence unleashed by the Assad regime, which had led his country to impose tough sanctions and to contribute humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria. He called the Security Council's recent failure to deal effectively with the Syrian crisis "disappointing in the extreme". "The use of the veto by two permanent members blocked the Security Council from endorsing the Arab regions own proposal to end the violence," he said. "The continued supply of arms to a regime engaged in killing its own people is reprehensible. History will judge harshly those whose obstruction serves only to prolong this senseless violence."

The report of the Commission of Inquiry outlined a patter of violations, he said, calling upon Syria to fully implement the Human Rights Council's resolutions. The international community must also support the Syrian people's legitimate calls for change, and he called on Member States to join in isolating the Syrian regime until Assad and his supporters stopped their atrocities. Welcoming the Arab League's proposal for a peaceful transition to democracy, he urged Syria to cooperate fully. "The refusal by the Assad regime to respect and protect the human rights of the Syrian people and the failure by the Security Council to address the situation demand that the General Assembly act decisively," he said. "The people of Syria cannot afford any further delay."

PEDRO NÚÑEZ MOSQUERA (Cuba) said that the information coming out of Syria was fragmentary and he condemned the campaign to promote regime change in the country through foreign intervention, instead of calling for dialogue between all parties and a Syrian solution. A civil war would be terrible for the country and the region. He condemned all loss of life. He categorically rejected foreign intervention, however, whether directly or through the support of armed groups. The position maintained by some members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the region, and the silence maintained vis-à-vis Israel's actions, showed that it was not necessarily human rights that motivated the current campaign. He supported the quest for a political solution to the crisis, with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, since it fell to Syrians alone to resolve the terrible situation.

PETER WITTIG (Germany), aligning himself with the statement of the European Union, said that, while diplomats discussed in New York, the death toll of civilians was mounting, including children, with rape and torture widespread. The killing and repression must end. Those responsible for crimes must be held accountable through a commission of inquiry mandated by the Security Council. He reiterated the demand for humanitarian access as well. He fully supported the Arab League's initiatives to help Syrians resolve the crisis through a nationally-owned process. He welcomed the clear words of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, and fully supported the urgency given by the Arab League to finding a solution, including their renewed initiative to call on the Security Council to act. He also supported the nomination of a special envoy of the Arab League to facilitate the political transition process, the convocation of a "friends of Syria" meeting and the idea of an Assembly resolution to be put forward by the Arab Group.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil) renewed her country's call for Syrian authorities to abide by their international obligations under human rights, humanitarian law, and their commitment to the Arab League. The current conflict required a "political, nationally-owned process", she said, and the Government must do more to establish the necessary conditions for negotiations to begin. "Political repression must cease immediately," she said. "Reforms must allow for real and timely change capable of promoting more democratic governance." In addition, the opposition must contribute through constructive engagement, as soon as appropriate conditions were established.

"The future of Syria is obviously in the hands of the Syrians, but the international community can and should help," she said. The United Nations should send a clear message condemning human rights violations and should support Arab League efforts and the centrality of a Syrian-led political process. Collective and individual action must be guided by the need to end violence, promote stability and help the parties find a path out of the current political impasse, she said, emphasizing that diplomatic efforts should not be spared. She supported greater involvement of the United Nations, in cooperation with the Arab League. "This hour required true cooperation among us and a firm determination above all to avoid even greater bloodshed," she said. "We owe it to the people of the country and their neighbours."

YANERIT MORGAN (Mexico) said that his delegation supported the actions taken by the High Commissioner in accordance with her mandate. Mexico reiterated its contempt for the violence being perpetrated against the Syrian people. The reports of indiscriminate use of artillery and other heavy weapons by Syrian forces was a matter of grave concern, and Mexico regretted that the Syrian Government had not cooperated with the international community's attempts to promote a peaceful political settlement to the crisis. He called on the Syrian authorities to end their use of force, protect and promote the human rights of the civilian population, and to establish an inclusive dialogue that could satisfy the legitimate demands of the people.

He went on to express support for the international efforts under way aiming to resolve the situation within the framework of international and regional mechanisms, as well as in accordance with respect for international law. He drew attention to the efforts being carried out by the Arab League in that regard. "The United Nations cannot remain passive or indifferent when faced with situations that threaten to generate into humanitarian tragedies," he said. The Security Council had a duty to act when indiscriminate violence was being used against civilian populations. The principle of non-interference reached its limit when values that were essential to the international community and grave violations of human rights were at stake. In the case of Syria, it was necessary that the international community clearly affirm that it would not tolerate actions that contravened basic international human rights norms.

MORTEN WETLAND (Norway) said the Syrian Government had deliberately ignored calls for it to comply with its international obligations. That Government had committed crimes against humanity and "brutally" cracked down on largely peaceful protests. He had been shocked to hear during the High Commissioner's briefing that children were reportedly subjected to the worst crimes, including being tortured to death. Norway strongly condemned the violence carried out by the Syrian regime and deplored the human suffering that it had caused. "A Government which used its military force against its own civilians has lost all legitimacy," he said, adding that President Assad should step aside so that a meaningful political transition could begin.

He said that, despite its agreement to abide by the 2 November Arab League action plan, the Syrian Government had deliberately ignored its obligations. While all parties had to end the violence, there could be no doubt that the Syrian authorities bore the primary responsibility to abide by international law. The Syrian authorities must also urgently allow full and unhindered access of humanitarian assistance. He said that Norway remained "deeply" disappointed by the recent double veto cast in the Security Council. At the same time, 13 Council members had supported the resolution that had been under consideration, sending a strong message that the Arab League's initiatives had broad international support. Norway continued to back the "hard won" regional push to end the violence, and he hoped to work with regional and international partners to establish broad-based support for a peaceful political transition by increasing pressure on the Syrian authorities and to ensure protection of the Syrian people. "We gather in the Assembly to demonstrate solidarity with the Syrian people by increasing the pressure on the Syrian regime and to adopt a resolution in support of ending the crisis," he said.

GARY QUINLAN (Australia) said given the dire situation in Syria, his country was "profoundly disappointed" in the 4 February veto of the Security Council proposed resolution, which did not call for military action, regime change nor an arms embargo and did not impose sanctions. The resolution called for support for the Arab League's initiative. Australia was united with Arab and other international partners and supported the Arab League. President Assad should cooperate fully with the Arab League.

Australia welcomed calls to work with Arab partners to establish an international support group to support peaceful transition in Syria and the earliest end to the bloodshed. That group would be a key mechanism for coordinating international assistance to Syrian people, backing the Arab League's diplomatic efforts, maintaining pressure on the Syrian Government to end the violence, and ensuring the crisis remained on the Security Council agenda. The international community had a responsibility to act to protect the Syrian people. Just as the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and many other regional countries had new freedoms for a more representative, democratic political life, the Syrian people deserved the same opportunity. Those committing acts of violence, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity must be held accountable for their actions, and the Syrian people should enjoy their fundamental freedoms, he said.

JOSÉ FILIPE MORAES CABRAL (Portugal), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union, deeply regretted that the Security Council was unable to adopt a resolution seeking an end to all violence and the establishment of a genuine Syrian political dialogue. He called it totally unacceptable that, since then, the Syrian regime had "escalated its deadly onslaught against its population. "This simply must stop and it must stop now!" he said, adding that over the past 11 months, the Syrian regime had broken promise after promise. If its current pledges to reform, dialogue and peace were to have any credence at all, it must immediately end its brutal campaign and implement all commitments, including those under the framework of the Arab League.

In addition, he renewed appeals to the Syrian authorities to cooperate fully with the High Commissioner and the Commission of Inquiry, to ensure accountability for all violations of Human Rights. He fully supported the League of Arab States efforts to end the violence and ensure the unity and territorial integrity of Syria and a Syrian-owned transition. In that effort, coordination between the League and the European Union, the United Nations and the Islamic Conference was critical. He pledged Portugal's active work with the League towards fulfilment of its objectives.

OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile) said that his delegation joined its voice with all those in the Assembly, as well as the Security Council, raising opposition to the violence in Syria. Indeed, the escalating violence between the Government and protestors "could not leave us unmoved". The briefing delivered earlier by the High Commissioner confirmed the seriousness of the situation, and Chile supported all efforts being carried out to end grave violations of human rights in Syria, and to find a peaceful solution. He regretted that the Security Council had been unable to agree on a resolution and, therefore, hoped that the General Assembly would soon be able to adopt a text that would lead to the protection of the Syrian people in line with international law. He drew the Assembly's attention to the fact that the use of the veto in the Security Council could indeed prevent the international community from acting in cases where grave violations of human rights and crimes against humanity had been alleged.

STEFAN BARRIGA ( Liechtenstein) said today's meeting was an opportunity to signal to the Syrian people that their suffering would not go unnoticed or unsanctioned at the United Nations. The League of Arab States initiative to engage Syrian authorities in a process to end the violence and ensure a peaceful transition was "the only game in town" and the only hope to end the senseless bloodshed. As such, he deplored that two permanent Security Council members had chosen to veto a draft resolution that would have supported that initiative, despite the fact that the text had already been reduced to its "bare bones" after intense negotiations.

Such behaviour was incompatible with the commitment to cooperate with regional organizations, he said, as well as the legal and moral responsibility of Council members in dealing with genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. Liechtenstein was alarmed at the intensifying attacks against Syrian civilians, calling on the Syrian Government to immediately end such violence and allow unhindered access for humanitarian assistance. International law violations must be independently investigated. In addition to supporting the League of Arab States initiative, the Assembly should recommend that the Security Council consider referring the matter to the International Criminal Court.

DESRA PERCAYA (Indonesia) said he was appalled by the escalating violence in Syria and the overall impact of violence on the greater population in Syria amounted to a humanitarian crisis. Indonesia firmly rejected the use of force and urged Syrian authorities to ensure the safety, security and protection of its population's human rights. He urged all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and respect for international human rights and humanitarian law. He reiterated an urgent need for Syrian authorities to implement without delay the obligations and measures they had previously committed themselves to.

The conflict must be solved through peaceful means, he said, emphasizing a "clear need" for a genuine and inclusive political dialogue among all parties in the country. The international community must act in unison to assist the achievement of that objective, he said. "We must create conditions conducive to the political settlement and political dialogue, which must be launched immediately," he said. Indonesia supported the proposed establishment of a joint peacekeeping force, but first, peace must return to Syria, and the peacekeeping force should ensure the protection of civilians and pave the way for political settlement.

SIN SON HO (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) stressed that any human rights discussion in the United Nations must respect Charter principles of non-interference with internal affairs, as well as sovereignty and territorial integrity. Violence against the Syrian Government must stop immediately. The future of the Syrian Arab people should be solely in their own hands. The situation should be resolved through dialogue and peaceful discussion. It was his hope that the situation be stabilized as soon as possible.

MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE (Iran) reiterated that, in regard to procedure, he wished that there had been prior consultations with concerned Member States, or even the General Committee before the meeting was announced. Today's actions could set a precedent and open the door for any situation to be brought to the Assembly without going through proper channels in a neutral, transparent and genuine manner. Syria was going through a very difficult time where its national integrity and solidarity were at stake. As there were partial and biased depictions of the situation on the ground, the events in Syria should be viewed in only a comprehensive manner. The international community, in addition, must be clear about the fact that many terrorist attacks had occurred in Syria, he said.

Addressing the legitimate demands of the people through a peaceful and domestically-led political process, without foreign intervention, was the only way out of the crisis. Coercive sanctions, attempts to interfere with Syrian internal affairs and other pressures would only worsen the situation. The goal should be a process leading to a more democratic, participatory and unified nation, with public order, national security and stability ensured. The main role of the United Nations was to help and facilitate a Syrian-led political process. He supported the Russian initiative to hold dialogue in Moscow and said his country stood ready to play its role in any constructive, unbiased and peaceful Syrian led political process.

MARÍA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO (Nicaragua) condemned acts of violence supported by foreign powers. She hoped Syria would be allowed to develop into a state of peace. Today the situation as it had developed in Libya was repeating itself. There was a sense of déjà vu where the scenario of military intervention and regime change was occurring in Syria, in flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter. Politicians and members of the military were asking that all possible avenues were explored. What the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was really pursuing was a regime change.

The current situation seemed to be following a script that called for military intervention, destruction of the country then dividing out lucrative contracts to rebuild the country. A peaceful solution must be found. The United Nations was founded on principles for peace, a notion her country firmly supported. The loss of innocent lives was regrettable and condemnable. The argument that humanitarian assistance was needed should not be used to interfere with legitimate States, nor to establish a precedent in international peace and security. She recognized that the Syrian Government was committed to a programme of meaningful reform, including laws on holding elections. The Government had already removed the military from the streets and released thousands in detention. Nicaragua was grateful to the Russian Federation's mediation proposal, and for that country and China's position in the Security Council, which was a firm decision against war. She rejected the calls for further interference in the domestic affairs of a State, which would establish a negative precedent.

ZOYA KOLONTAI (Belarus) expressed doubts about the lack of impartiality and objectiveness about the situation in Syria found in the reports discussed today. The documents were based on conclusions reached by one party. She was deeply concerned by the continued bloodshed, and supported the swiftest possible negotiation to end the violence. She commended and welcomed the Russian Federation's mediation efforts.

Belarus called on opposing parties to end the violence and come to the negotiating table, the only responsible, lasting way to resolve the situation. The only true path to normalizing the situation was broad-based national dialogue based on impartiality. She called on the General Assembly Member States to distance themselves from hasty and unfair decisions.

CESARE MARIA RAGAGLINI (Italy) said his delegation would add its voice to those condemning the continued use of force against civilians and widespread incidents of torture and sexual assault in Syria. Protesters, human rights activists and journalists also continued to be persecuted and detained on political grounds. The situation was so serious that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had concluded that crimes against humanity might have been committed by Syrian security forces. "The Assad regime has broken all its promises, including its pledges to end the repression, release political prisoners, allow unimpeded access to Arab League observers and international media," he said, adding that instead, the violence had only increased in recent weeks.

"The unfolding scenario is unacceptable," he continued, underscoring that the aspirations of the Syrian people must be met. Italy believed it was essential that the violence end immediately. Italy also supported the efforts of the Arab League to promote a peaceful and democratic solution to the ongoing crisis. To that end, he welcomed the outcome of yesterday's ministerial meeting in Cairo. Italy had been working with European partners to put increasing pressure on the Assad regime to end its violent crackdown, and had also adopted individual sanctions against many of those responsible for the repression, including President Assad. Italy remained committed to a peaceful resolution to the crisis, in line with the aims of the Arab League road map towards a political transition process supported by the international community.

RON PROSOR (Israel) said that no decent human being could ignore the pictures of injured children coming out of Homs, adding that the consequences of inaction would be horrific. To understand the regime's intent, its track record must be considered, including the massacre of 30,000 people in Hama exactly 30 years ago. "It will cling to power no matter what crime it must commit," he said, citing murder, rape and torture. "Assad has lost the moral authority to govern," he added. As the death toll rose, the moral obligation of the international community to act rose as well. It was time for the organization to start doing something meaningful to stop Assad from killing his own people. "The children of Syria — from Homs to Hama — cry out to us. Their fate is in our hands."

BERNADETTE CAVANAGH (New Zealand) supported the Human Rights Council's special session on Syria and the related resolution referring to the report of the Commission of Inquiry. The report had made it clear that crimes against humanity had been committed and that substantial evidence of grave human rights violations — including summary execution, enforced disappearance and torture — had been found. "This is abhorrent, it must stop and Syria must protect its population," she asserted. Commending the role played by Syria's neighbours, especially the Arab League and Turkey, she added: "We should listen to the countries in the region and follow their lead."

She said New Zealand was dismayed that the Security Council had failed to support the Arab League Plan and was troubled by reports that the situation in Syria had intensified since that failure to act. She called on Syrian authorities to immediately end the killings and fully comply with their international legal obligations to investigate, prosecute and punish all perpetrators of crimes against humanity. She also urged that Government to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and the Arab League.

VINAY KUMAR (India), stressing the importance of Syria in the Middle East, said his country was deeply concerned over the deaths of thousands of civilians and security personnel in the last eleven months. He condemned all violence and violations of human rights, regardless of the perpetrators. The rights of expression and peaceful assembly must be respected, while also ensuring stability and security. From the beginning, his country had called for a peaceful and inclusive political process to address the grievances of all sectors of society. He had conveyed that message to the Syrian leadership. A political process must be led by the Syrians themselves and the main role of the international community was to facilitate inclusive political engagement, while ensuring respect for the country's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.

He welcomed a role for the League of Arab States in promoting political dialogue and supported their initiatives in that vein, including the observer mission. The leadership of Syria was a matter for the Syrian people to decide, he added. He hoped that Leagues efforts created a new environment for peace and promotion of a political process, building upon the political reforms already announced by the Syrian leadership, with necessary changes so that they find acceptance among all sections of Syrian society.

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN (Turkey) regretted the ongoing violence and mounting civilian death toll in Syria, noting that international efforts should be focused on ending the bloodshed and paving the way for a democratic, Syrian-led transition process. Civil war and religious sectarian and ethnic divisions should be avoided at all costs, he said.

Turkey commended the Arab League's efforts and welcomed the call for the establishment of a Group of Friends of Syria. The risk of a humanitarian crisis was growing, a reality that Turkey had brought to the attention of relevant United Nations bodies and agencies. The international humanitarian organizations needed to mobilize resources now, in order to cope with rapidly escalating humanitarian needs. The international community must exert every effort to prevent the situation from further deteriorating.

Right of Reply

Exercising his right of reply, the representative of Syria said the representative of Israel, which occupied Arab territories in the Golan, Palestine and South Lebanon, had clearly revealed his cards today. It was important to hear from the representative of an entity that had carried out group massacres in many towns, actions that were well documented in the records of United Nations commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions and reports by the Human Rights Council. In addition, Israel held prisoners, including the speaker of the Palestine Council. Israel, with its aggressive policies and continued human rights violations, was, in fact, the destabilizing force in the Middle East region. He said the language used by Israel's delegate was similar to that used by the Gulf Council, proof of an alliance formed against Syria.

In closing, Mr. AL-NASSER, President of the General Assembly, thanked all participants of the day, and their concern for Syria, adding that many member States underlined the necessity to put an end to the violence and human rights violations there, with a large majority regretting the Security Council's inability to adopt a resolution in support of the Arab plan. He was encouraged by the dialogue between the Secretary-General and the Arab League. As President of the General Assembly, he stood ready to consider the issue whenever Member States deemed it necessary.

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