Navi Pillay recalls the Responsibility to Protect in a statement about the crisis in Syria
The following statement was made by Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights during the side-event at the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council on "Bearing witness: human rights and accountability in Syria" on 10 September 2012.
(… ) I thank you for your invitation to address you on the situation in Syria, where the situation is increasingly dire, with a terrible disregard, that amounts almost to contempt, for the protections of civilians, as the country plunges ever deeper into conflict. Human rights abuses are rampant, and have reached the point where mass killings, summary executions and torture are the norm. In addition, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly with tens of thousands of civilians now suffering shortages of food, water, electricity, employment and other basic necessities.
Gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law continue to take place every day. Thousands have been killed, thousands more injured. As we speak, civilians, including children, are continuing to be injured and killed in Syria virtually every hour of every day.
No end to the conflict is in sight, and I would like to say at the outset that I fully support the Secretary-General’s initiative for dialogue and his appointment of the new Joint Special Representative, whose job – as he himself has said – appears at this point to be close to impossible.
I urge all parties, in the strongest possible terms, to protect civilians from the on-going violence and to immediately cease acts of violence against civilians in violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. I am also calling for desisting the supply of ammunition to both sides. (…)
Bearing in mind the consistently deplorable and steadily deteriorating situation on the ground, I would like to remind States that they unanimously agreed, at the 2005 World Summit, that each State is obliged to protect its population from crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means.
When a State fails to protect its population from serious international crimes, the international community is responsible to step in by taking protective action in a collective, timely and decisive manner. The international community must assume its responsibilities and act in unison to prevent further violations. Actions that directly contribute to escalating the violence, such as providing arms, will most likely only result in more civilians being killed and injured.
In cases of gross violations constituting crimes under international law, States are under an obligation to investigate. If there is sufficient evidence, States also have the duty to prosecute those responsible for the violations.
Syrian authorities have failed to heed the repeated calls to conduct impartial and transparent investigations into all human rights violations, including their own.
We cannot afford to continue waiting for a change of policy on the part of the Government, that it shows no sign of ever making. Hence, I reiterate my call for the Security Council to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court. A referral will make it abundantly clear to all actors in Syria that they will not escape justice and will be held accountable for alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
It is also equally important that to the maximum extent possible now, and in the future, the many victims of this deplorable situation are treated with humanity and respect for their dignity and human rights. Appropriate measures should be taken to ensure their safety, physical and psychological well-being and privacy, as well as those of their families.
Pressure on the Government to give the Commission of Inquiry immediate and unhindered access to Syria should be maintained. The Government of Syria continues to deny the Commission access to the country. Pressure should also be kept up on the authorities to allow international organizations to monitor conditions in places of detention. Pressure should also be increased on both sides to observe all the international laws that they are breaking on a daily basis.
Those responsible for human rights violations must eventually be brought to justice. This is a key and non-negotiable principle that should be maintained throughout all our continuing efforts to bring peace. (…)
All wars come to an end at some point, but a sustainable peace will only be possible if accountability and justice prevail.
See full statement.