The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), in cooperation with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, held a side event yesterday, Friday, 7 June 2013, on the state of human rights in Syria. The event came as part of the CIHRS’ activities at the 23rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which is currently convened in Geneva and which will continue until 14 June.
The side event featured five human rights defenders from Syria, who gave an overview of the state of human rights in their country and highlighted the crimes which have been committed by all of the different parties to the internal armed conflict in Syria. The speakers included representatives from the Assyrian Human Rights Network, the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, and the Syrian Center for Human Rights, in addition to a representative from a Syrian women’s rights group.
The side event opened with the speakers explaining how a number of Syrian organizations have come together in order to engage jointly at the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council, in order to draw the attention of the international community to the suffering of the Syrian people and to urge the international community to take urgent steps to stop the grave violations being committed against civilians in the country, including by referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court with the aim of ensuring accountability for international crimes.
The Syrian rights defenders expressed their hopes for an peaceful end to the conflict in Syria, yet they asserted that peace will not be achieved if those responsible for grave crimes enjoy impunity, affirming that peace in Syria will require the establishment of justice and accountability for all parties which have committed violations to human rights – whether in support of or opposition to the ruling regime.
One of the speakers drew attention to the rights violations which have occurred against religious and ethnic minorities in Syria, emphasizing that the Syrian government has taken measures to frame the revolution as a sectarian phenomenon and to militarize it. He gave the example of the government intentionally attacking Christians in Syrian in order to deter them from joining the revolution. He also stated that forces opposed to the government have also committed violations against minorities.
The representative of the Syrian women’s rights organization focused on the state of women in Syria and on the violations to which they have been subjected since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, stating: “Violations against women in Syria are committed by all parties to the conflict – whether affiliated with the government or opposed to it – yet these violations began with the Syrian government.” She further shed light on the state of Syrian women who have become refugees in neighboring countries, pointing out that Syrian refugees find themselves in a very vulnerable position and lack adequate support. In fact, cases of marriages of underage girls and of temporary marriage of Syrian women have been documented in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.
The side event further highlighted the idea behind documenting violations and pointed out that it is critical to document violations committed by all parties to the conflict in Syria. The speakers pointed out, however, that the Syrian government is responsible for systematic gross violations to human rights, including the use of weapons that are not appropriate to the resistance faced, such as the use of heavy artillery against residential areas.
The final speaker affirmed that a number of patterns of extrajudicial killings have been exhibited repeatedly by the Syrian governmental forces, including mass killings, summary executions, and sniper activity. They stated that tens of thousands of Syrians have lost their lives due to indiscriminate bombings, as well.
The side event closed by reaffirming the necessity of finding a rapid end to the conflict and ensuring that those responsible for grave human rights abuses in Syria are held to account.
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