The head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, said yesterday that the commission’s forthcoming report will focus particularly on the dangers facing human rights defenders and journalists in Syria. The focus on human rights defenders and journalists comes especially because of their dangerous work documenting violations committed by all sides of the conflict, and particularly because their documentation is essential in light of the Syrian government’s ongoing refusal to grant the commission entry into its territory.
The commission’s move comes in response to an oral intervention presented by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), in conjunction with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network(EMHRN)and its Syrian partners, on 16 September before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The intervention examined the hardships faced by human rights defenders in Syria and the ways they are targeted for retaliation for their commitment to human rights. The intervention asked the HRC to recognize the price paid by these courageous people for the documentation of crimes that could be used to hold offenders accountable.
The oral intervention, presented in a discussion session at the HRC on the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, noted that Syrian rights advocates are incarcerated and prosecuted in trials that do not comply with even the most basic principles for a fair trial. In addition, it was also noted that thousands of peaceful activists are being arbitrarily detained in Syrian government prisons and are routinely tortured, which has resulted in the death of thousands. Human rights activists and journalists are increasingly facing threats from non-state actors who are using terrorism to take control of various areas.
In this context, the head of the commission said in his conclusion that “Syria was probably the most dangerous country in the world for journalists and human rights defenders, and the Commission’s next report would focus on attacks against them”.
The oral intervention by the CIHRS and its partners also addressed the unfair trial of the Syrian journalist Mazen Darwish and his colleagues at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)., as well as the disappearance of Syrian lawyer and head of the Center for the Documentation of Violations(VDC) Razan Zeitouna, who was abducted with three of her colleagues by opposition armed group more than nine months ago.
The organizations asked the HRC to assume its responsibilities to defend the interests of victims in Syria by urging the UN Security Council, clearly and strenuously, to refer the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court, especially after Syrians have lost nearly all faith in the ability of HRC mechanisms to address the deep-rooted culture of impunity in their country
The session was held as part of the 27th session of the UN HRC, which convened in Geneva on September 8; the session is scheduled to end on September 26.
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