In a joint open human rights letter to Ireland: Security Council should ensure accountability for violations committed in Palestine, Syria, and Yemen

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

On 16 March 2021, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), together with Palestinian, Syrian and Yemeni human rights organisations, sent a letter to the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations (UN) in New York, in light of its term at the UN Security Council. The organisations commended Ireland’s long-standing commitment to human rights, multilateralism, and accountability, and its efforts thus far in this regard, as also relevant to the Middle East, particularly in relation to the situations in Palestine, Syria and Yemen.

The letter highlighted the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situations in all three countries due to ongoing politically and economic-driven conflicts, enabled by the absence of accountability for the numerous grave violations and crimes committed in each context. The letter further emphasized the need to counter impunity in such contexts to ensure that the populations affected are able to achieve justice and redress.

The undersigned organizations urged Ireland, during its term at the Security Council, to ensure constructive engagement with civil society organisations from Palestine, Syria and Yemen, including on the subject of accountability and durable peace.

The full letter, which presents specific recommendations to Ireland concerning Palestine, Syria and Yemen, is available below.

16 March 2021

Your Excellency Ms. Geraldine Byrne Nason

The undersigned organisations congratulate Ireland on its fourth term at the United Nations (UN) Security Council. We take this opportunity to commend Ireland’s long -standing commitment to human rights, multilateralism, peacekeeping, and conflict resolution. We are confident that Ireland will continue to protect these fundamental elements to peace and security through its seat at the UN Security Council, guided by the principles of peace building, strengthening prevention, and ensuring accountability, as also relevant to the Middle East.

Historically, and within the realm of the Security Council, Ireland has acknowledged the international community’s “responsibility and duty” towards the Middle East and the people in the region, which has long endured injustices and instability, to move beyond “rhetoric and language” as part of realizing international peace and security.

Despite the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in large parts of the region due to politically and economic-driven conflicts, namely in Palestine, Syria, and Yemen, the absence of accountability continues to prevail, deepening and prolonging the crises. The lack of political will among the international community has granted impunity for grave violations and international crimes, and at times, obstructed international mechanisms seeking accountability, resulting in an undue delay in justice for the populations affected in these countries.

Palestine

The Palestinian people have endured Israel’s colonisation and occupation, embodied in systemic oppression, fragmentation and dispossession for far too long. As Israel’s grave violations persist, it is high time that the international community, including Ireland, addressed this reality – characterized by institutional discrimination, segregation, forcible transfer and ethnic cleansing, crimes of persecution and apartheid – and took immediate effective measures to bring this cycle of human degradation and impunity to an end, at the Security Council and beyond. Indeed, the absence of accountability will create a “ climate for further human rights abuses” and hinder the prospects of peaceful settlements.

At this critical time, Ireland, together with UN Member States, must maintain the obligations of non-recognition and non-assistance to Israel’s unlawful actions, including its illegal settlement enterprise and annexation. To this end, Ireland should, inter alia, safeguard and act upon all relevant Security Council resolutions, namely resolution 2334 (2016), which reaffirms the illegality of Israeli settlements, calls for their cessation, and underlines non -recognition of Israel’s unilateral changes to the status of Jerusalem. Equally important, Ireland should work with other Member States to guarantee that an effective distinction in relevant dealings between Israel and the OPT is made.1

We call on Ireland to work with Member States to meet their obligations in relation to the Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip, an act of collective punishment that has dehumanized and destroyed two million Palestinians and their properties. This includes obligations listed in Human Rights Council resolution 40/13 (2019) which calls upon states, inter alia, to pursue the implementation of the UN Commission of Inquiry’s (CoI)

  • It is worth noting here the ‘Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill’ which reflects the will of the Irish people, its Parliament and civil society, urging Ireland to criminalise the import or selling of goods or services that originated from illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

recommendations, including to “consider imposing individual sanctions, such as a travel ban or an assets freeze” on perpetrators.

Together with the State of Palestine, Ireland should seriously consider to lead an initiative during its term at the Council, requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to assess and rule on the illegality of Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine, as recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.

In light of the recent announcement by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) initiating investigations into the situation of Palestine, we are confident that Ireland will continue to support the ICC, including at the Council, and to protect it agai nst any interference and attacks. Ireland should work with the United States (US) to lift the sanctions imposed on the ICC and its staff, as well as encourage the US and other Member States not to obstruct the work of the Court, thereby proving Ireland’s commitment to uphold the international legal framework and its set agenda for the current term.

Syria

As Ireland commenced its membership at the Security Council, the Syrian people mark the 10th anniversary of the conflict that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, more than five million refugees and another six million internally displaced, and more than 100,000 detainees and enforced disappearances. The overall economic situation in Syria is deteriorating with many on the brink of starvation, and the people are facing the pandemic with a collapsing health care system as a result of the systematic attacks by the Syrian regime, the Russian government and others.

In the north, Turkey maintains its illegal occupation of Syrian territory, which has been fraught with serious human rights violations and war crimes by the Turkish military and its allies, including indiscriminate attacks killing and injuring civilians and destroying vital infrastructure, forcible transfer and deportation, and arbitrary detention. Meanwhile in Idlib, due to continuing clashes between regime forces, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and other non-state militant groups, the humanitarian situation remains precarious for the civilians trapped in the enclave.

The Syrian conflict has also been characterized by gross impunity and remains one of the principal and most intricate challenges to the future of human rights and stability and peace in the region and neighbourhood. All over Syria, the Government of Syria primarily in addition to non-state armed groups has deliberately resorted to arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, including through sexual violence, and enforced disappearance to silence and intimidate dissent and attack minorities. No party has been held liable for such grave violations, amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

To date, tens of thousands of men, women, boys and girls remain forcibly disappeared by the Syrian government. In this regard, we call on Ireland to facilitate the creation of an independent mechanism with an international mandate to coordinate and consolidate claims regarding missing persons and forcibly disappeared – as recommended by the UN Commission on Inquiry on Syria in its March 2021 report and Syrian civil society. The call was recently echoed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the High Representative/Vice-President (HR/VP) Borrell, and the European Parliament.

Syria has further become infamous for the grave and systematic human righ ts violations against women, particularly with the use of SGBV as a tool of war against specific communities. Women have been struggling with their legal status in the Syrian justice system ranging from struggles regarding citizenship, housing, law and pro perty, their right to give

nationality to their children as well as the economic and psychological impact from the societal stigma following detention and sexual violence. Connected to all these struggles is their exacerbated access to justice and subsequently their political participation.

In order for Syria to reach a true and sustainable political solution towards peace, it is crucial for women to be actively involved in all processes as experts in their own rights, rather than being reduced to victimhood and tokenized in their role and to develop and implement mechanisms that are inclusive and gender-sensitive.

We commend Ireland’s role and its repeated pledges for financial support to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. Mr. Simon Coveney’s recent announcement to exert diplomatic pressure for humanitarian action in Syria as part of Ireland’s membership at the Security Council is another constructive step.

As a pen-holder to humanitarian access, we urge Ireland to tackle the Council’s failure to maintain an effective and sufficient cross-border aid system for northern Syria. Ireland, together with Norway and other Member States, must ensure that humanitarian needs are met and that access to aid is guaranteed for all communities and all regions of Syria. Human lives and dignity must be put above political interests and motives, and therefore, aid must be depoliticized.

Given the scale of atrocities committed in the context of the Syrian conflict, justice and accountability is an essential element for a genuine peace process and a sustainable political solution. In light of this, we anticipate that Ireland will continue to support and mobilize international support to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria (COI), the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) on Syria, and other relevant concrete accountability mechanisms at regional and international levels.

Yemen

In Yemen, an ongoing armed conflict for six years has resulted in a catastrophic man-made humanitarian crisis. Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, existing epidemics, the continuous risk of famine, the situation of the Yemeni population is exacerbated by the persistent grave violations by all parties to the conflict, including killings, enforced disappearance, torture, gender-based and sexual violence, shadowed by pervasive impunity.

To date, Yemeni victims have no prospects of seeking justice at national or international levels, while indiscriminate attacks, ground attacks on health facilities, the use of landmines, among other forms of oppression and atrocities continue to haunt the Yemeni population. It is worth noting that the protracted conflict in Yemen is also a result of failed transitional justice for previous strife in Yemen thus allowing for the cycle of violence to continue.

The international community must explicitly affirm that accountability and redress for victims are inherent and non-negotiable elements for a durable political solution and peace in Yemen. In this regard, we commend Ireland’s leading role at the Human Righ ts Council and its consistent support of the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) mandate. We also welcome Ireland’s call for an independent investigation into the indiscriminate attack at Aden Airport on 30 December 2020, one of numerous examples of attacks requiring investigations.

Nonetheless, considering the ‘pandemic of impunity’ in Yemen, we call on Ireland to work with Member States to ensure that the Security Council regularly engages with the GEE and acts on its recommendations in holding perpetrators of violations and crimes – from all parties to the conflict – to account and protect victims’ right to remedy.

To this end, we call on Ireland to support and initiate actions toward a Security Council referral of the situation in Yemen to the ICC. We further call on Ireland to utilize available opportunities to support the ICC in examining and investigating the involvement of arms exporters in grave violations and alleged war crimes committed in Yemen.

Meanwhile, the Security Council must maintain and expand sanctions against individuals and entities perpetrators of grave violations, uphold and expand the targeted arms embargo to cover all parties to the conflict. This was recently reaffirmed by the European Parliament, which called on the EU and its Member States to “take resolute action” in this regard, and to impose an EU-wide ban on the export, sale, update and maintenance of any form of security equipment to the Saudi-UAE coalition.

Ireland, together with Member States, should seek to establish and support a new resolution at the Security Council that reflects the current reality and state of the conflict in Yemen, among others, highlighting the importance of accountability, including criminal justice and reparations, to realize a sustainable political solution and peace.

Your Excellency,

In light of the above, we urge Ireland to ensure continued constructive engagement with civil society organisations and groups from Palestine, Syria and Yemen during its term at the Security Council. It is imperative that Ireland, a long -standing supporter of civil society and human rights defenders around the world, creates space for civil society at the Security Council, including by initiating arria formula meetings with civil society on the importance of justice and accountability to achieving sustainable peace; a matter that remains in the competence of the Security Council.

We are confident that Ireland will play an active role at the Security Council in the coming two years to end impunity, as outlined in its agenda for its current ter m at the Council, including for grave violations and crimes committed by state and non -state actors in the Palestinian, Syrian, and Yemeni contexts.

As illustrated in Ireland’s struggle for independence, there can be no reconciliation without truth and justice, which is reflected in Ireland’s approach for its term at the Council to promote the rule of law and uphold human rights, particularly international humanitarian and human rights law – integral for the protection of civilians in conflict and in the fight against impunity.

Despite the dire and challenging realities in Palestine, Syria and Yemen, genuine political will by the international community to uphold the rights and wills of the peoples will create new opportunities, founded on justice, which are necessary for peace in the region and the world.

Lastly, we take this opportunity to kindly request a meeting with you to discuss the issues raised in the letter at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) – MENA.
  • Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Mankind – Palestine.
  • Al Mezan Center for Human Rights – Palestine.
  • Dawlaty – Syria.
  • Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) – Syria.
  • Mwatana for Human Rights – Yemen.

This letter is endorsed by Sadaka, the Ireland Palestine Alliance.


Photo: A pedestrian walks past a 3D drawing by a Syrian girl, showing scenes of conflict, ahead of an international peace and donor conference for Syria, outside European Union institutions in Brussels, Belgium, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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