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UN Human Rights Council calls for investigation into alleged abuses in Syria

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted for a mission to be sent to Syria to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law and crimes committed against civilians in the Middle East country, where hundreds of people have been killed during weeks of unrest.

Condemning the use of deadly violence against peaceful demonstrators and the “hindrance of access to medical treatment,” the Council urged the Syrian Government to protect civilians and respect fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression and assembly.

It also called for the restoration of access to the Internet and other communication networks, the lifting of media censorship and to allow foreign journalists into the country.

In a resolution supported by 26 of the Council’s 47 Member States, the Geneva-based panel requested that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights dispatch a mission to Syria to investigate alleged violations. Nine Member States voted against the resolution, seven abstained and four were absent.

The Council “calls upon the Syrian Government to cooperate fully with and grant access to personnel from the mission dispatched by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” the text said.

It deeply regretted the deaths of hundreds of people in the ongoing political protests and voiced grave concern over the alleged deliberate killings, arrests and incidents of torture of demonstrators by the Syrian authorities.

The Council called upon authorities to immediately free all prisoners of conscience and people arbitrarily detained, including those held before the recent events, and called for an end to intimidation, persecution and arbitrary arrests of lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists.

In addition, the Council urged the Syrian authorities to refrain from reprisals against people who have taken part in peaceful demonstrations, and stressed the need for credible and impartial investigation and prosecution of those responsible for attacks on the protesters.

It appealed to authorities to enlarge the scope of political participation to strengthen social justice and ensure civil liberties.

In her statement to the Council, before the resolution was adopted, Kyung-wha Kang, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that information gathered since mid-March painted a disturbing picture.

This included the widespread use of live fire ammunition against protesters; the arrest, detention and disappearance of demonstrators, human rights defenders, and journalists; and torture and ill-treatment of detainees. More than 450 people have reportedly been killed and three times that number injured.

There was also repression of press freedoms and other means of communication and attacks against medical personnel, facilities and patients.

‘Yet even these deplorable practices have been exceeded over the past week. According to reports, entire towns have been besieged. Tanks have been deployed and shelled densely-populated areas,” said Ms. Kang.

“The delivery of food has been impeded. Access to electricity has been cut. And transportation systems have been shut down. There have been reports of snipers firing on persons attempting to assist the injured or remove dead bodies from public areas,” she added.

The Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide a preliminary report and an oral update of the human rights situation in Syria to its 17th session and to submit a follow-up report to the 18th session.

The Council took note of the stated intention by Syrian authorities to take steps towards reform and called for concrete measures to meet the legitimate demands of the people.

Ms. Kang noted that Syria is a State party to nearly all of the core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Thus, Syria must ensure that the rights to life, liberty and security of person are protected in all circumstances, including in the context of efforts to maintain law and order,” she said.

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