"Syria: Humanitarian situation deteriorates as actors at all levels strive to protect civilians", ICRtoP
Humanitarian aid hindered by Syrian forces, despite UN demands
One year since uprisings in Syria began on 15 March 2011, the situation continues to deteriorate as evidenced by attacks in Idlib near the Turkish border beginning on 10 March 2012 and reports of a “massacre” of approximately 50 women and children in Homs on 12 March. In Idllib, the Free Syrian Army retaliated, attacking Syrian tanks and helicopters and targeting Syrian forces. Human Rights Watch, in its 15 March press release on the attack on Idlib, stated that witness accounts indicate “significant destruction and a large number of deat hs and injuries” in the city, with Syrian activists tallying 114 deaths since 10 March. Reports of widespread and systematic torture of detainees have been released as Amnesty International, in its 14 March report entitled ‘I wanted to die’: Syria’s torture survivors speak out, documents “31 methods of torture or other ill-treatment by security forces, army and pro-government armed shabiha gangs.” In a statement on 13 March, Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby said that the killing of civilians in Syria amounted to crimes against humanity.
In a 2 March 2012 UN General Assembly meeting on Syria, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that "credible reports" suggested the death toll had surpassed 7,500 with the daily death toll exceeding 100 in many instances. 20,000 refugees have registered with the UN with an estimated 100,000 - 200,000 others displaced within Syria. In an effort to support its response to the increasing refugee crisis, the UN High Commission for Refugees announced on 13 March that it had appointed a Regional Refugee Coordinator.
With violence escalating, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were finally able to begin evacuations and deliver aid supplies to Homs on 24 February. The humanitarian organizations were only granted approximately 45 minutes of access on 7 March to the most besieged district, Baba Amr, where they found a “devastated” city from which most civilians has already fled. As of 9 March the ICRC reported that the situation remained dire as cold weather with the wo rsening economic situation “making it even harder for people to cope.”
Measures to resolve crisis remain hampered due to unwillingness of the Syrian government
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) released a statement on the ongoing violence on 1 March calling for “immediate and unhindered access” to be granted to Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary General on Humanitarian Affairs, who struggled until 6 March to gain access to assess the humanitarian situation. Reporting that she was “horrified” by the violence and the “devastated” area of Homs, and that “limited” progress had been made to deliver aid to hard-hit cities, Amos submitted a proposal to the government, who agreed to allow a “limited assessment” of the situation by UN agencies and Syrian authorities. As reported by Al-Jazeera on 15 March, a team of UN experts is scheduled to be dispatched to Damascus to engage in a Syrian led humanitarian mission to several cities affected by the violence, including Homs, Hama, and Daraa.
Member States during a UNSC meeting held on 12 March confirmed that another UN draft resolution was under way, to be presented by the United States. Russia spoke in opposition to the “unbalanced” resolution, citing the draft’s call for the Syrian government to halt violence but not the rebel groups. A coalition of over 200 humanitarian and human rights organizations issued a call on 12 March to the governments of Russia and China to support UN efforts to respond to and halt atrocities in Syria. Meanwhile, the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and th e Responsibility to Protect released a statement on 15 March in which they declared that “the lack of unified international condemnation and response to protect the Syrian population has encouraged the Government to continue its course of action.” The Advisers stated that reports suggest that “Security Council paralysis” has resulted in increased violence by Syrian authorities which has caused the population to “fend for itself”.
Human Rights Council
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC), during its 19th Session, adopted a resolution on 1 March calling for an end to the violence and for those responsible for crimes to be held accountable. The second report of the UN Commission on Inquiry in Syria, released in February, found that the Syrian government has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect the population and crimes against humanity have been committed by armed forces. The HRC, which urged, once again, for a ceasefire on 9 March, was brief ed on 12 March by Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Commission of inquiry on Syria. In his briefing, Pinheiro urged for all parties to prevent escalation to civil war and for the international community to work together to resolve the crisis. At the meeting the governments of Qatar and Norway declared that Syria had failed in its responsibility to protect its population, with other Member States noting that human rights violations committed by authorities amounted to crimes against humanity.
UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy
Additional measures to resolve the crisis have included the 23 February appointment of Kofi Annan as the joint UN-Arab League special envoy in accordance with the adoption of GA Resolution 66/253. Former Palestinian Former Minister Nasser al-Qudha was appointed by the Arab League as Annan’s deputy-envoy on 5 March. In a meeting on 8 March in Cairo, the Arab League and Russia, in conjunction with Kofi Annan, ruled out military intervention believing that it would only worsen the situation. Annan began talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 10 March only to leave Syria without reaching an agreement for a ceasefire. Both Assad and the leader of Syria’s main opposition group rejected dialogue, with the opposition saying negotiation was “unrealistic” and advocating for military force.
1. Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect release statement marking a full year of violent suppression of anti-government protests in Syria
Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide
15 March 2012
(…) Over the past year, the Syrian Government’s increasingly violent assault of its population has deepened sectarian divides and brought the country to the brink of civil war. Clearly, the Government has manifestly failed to protect the Syrian population. (…)
The lack of unified international condemnation and response to protect the Syrian population has encouraged the Government to continue its course of action. Reports suggest that the Government has intensified its attacks in the face of Security Council paralysis, leading to a sharp increase in the number of deaths, injuries and cases of abuse and torture over recent weeks and months.
The lack of timely and decisive action by the international community has left the Syrian population to fend for itself. As a result, reports suggest that an increasing number of Syrians have taken up arms. A growing number of soldiers have reportedly chosen to defect rather than obey orders to commit crimes against civilians. As attacks by Government forces and allied militias against civilians continue, we fear that the risk of retributive acts along sectarian lines will also increase. To prevent further rounds of violence, which could have devastating effects for the country and the region, the Government must stop its attacks on the people of Syria now.
There is strong and growing evidence that crimes against humanity are being committed in Syria. We reiterate our calls for the Government of Syria to immediately end all violence against its population and for all parties, including non-state actors, to meet their obligations under international law. Violence by any party against civilian populations is unacceptable. We call on the international community, including the Security Council, to take immediate collective action, utilizing the full range of tools available under the United Nations Charter, to protect populations at risk of further atrocity crimes in Syria. (…)
2. Statement on the Anniversary of Atrocities in Syria
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
15 March 2012
One year ago the Syrian government began its campaign of violent repression against a peaceful uprising. Today it stands responsible for the deaths of over 7,500 Syrian civilians. Divisions within the United Nations Security Council have emboldened the Syrian government in its ongoing commission of crimes against humanity. This cannot continue. The United Nations Security Council must uphold the Responsibility to Protect and send a strong, unified message to the Syrian government to cease its attacks on civilians. (…)
The Responsibility to Protect was created to prevent and protect populations from these mass atrocity crimes and the Security Council’s ability to fulfill this responsibility cannot be held hostage by two of its member-states. As prospects for any peaceful resolution of the conflict dwindle, all efforts must be made to urge Russia and China to work with the international community in demanding a halt to further crimes against humanity.
While all measures must be considered, we are deeply concerned that the further militarization of the situation will only lead to more lives lost. The appointment of Kofi Annan as the UN-Arab League Special Envoy on Syria provides a critical opportunity for diplomatic engagement. (…)
The Security Council has a responsibility to take action in situations where populations are experiencing mass atrocities. In keeping with the Responsibility to Protect we urge Security Council members to:
- Strongly condemn the unrelenting attacks by the Syrian government on its own people and demand an immediate ceasefire followed by unhindered humanitarian access;
- Provide their full support and cooperation, both materially and politically, to the diplomatic mission of Kofi Annan;
- Indicate that the Council is prepared to take additional steps, including imposing an arms embargo, authorizing targeted sanctions, and referring the situation to the ICC, should the Syrian government fail to cease its attacks on civilians. (…)
3. Syria: New report finds systemic and widespread torture and ill-treatment in detention
14 March 2012
People caught up in the massive wave of arrests in the wake of the Syrian uprising have been thrust into a nightmarish world of systemic torture, a new report by Amnesty International says today. The scale of torture and other ill-treatment in Syria has risen to a level not witnessed for years and is reminiscent of the dark era of the 1970s and 1980s. (…)
Released a day before the one-year anniversary of the start of mass protests in Syria, ‘I wanted to die’: Syria’s torture survivors speak out, documents 31 methods of torture or other ill-treatment by security forces, army and pro-government armed shabiha gangs, described by witnesses or victims to Amnesty International researchers in Jordan in February 2012. (…)
Amnesty International said that the testimonies of torture survivors presented yet more evidence of crimes against humanity in Syria. (…)
In light of the failure to secure an ICC referral, Amnesty International said it wanted to see the UN Human Rights Council extend the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and reinforce its capacity to monitor, document and report, with a view to eventual prosecutions of those responsible for crimes under international law and other gross violations of human rights.
The organization also said it wanted to see the international community accepting its shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity in their national courts - in fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty - and called for the formation of joint international investigation and prosecution teams to improve the chances of arrest. (…)
4. Open letter to the members of the UN Security Council - United for Syria: Stop one year of bloodshed
International Federation for Human Rights
12 March 2012
Forty-seven individuals, among them former government and UN officials and regional experts and advocates, signed an open letter to the members of the UN Security Council, calling for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and unity between Council members. The letter was published on 12 March in the Financial Times.
(…) One year after the start of the Syrian uprising, we are saddened to see divisions in the Security Council prevent a unified and proactive international response to the crisis. Responsibility for the current bloodshed ultimately rests with those in Syria ordering, permitting, or themselves committing, horrific crimes. However, splits among the international community have provided the Assad government with a license to kill. This license must be withdrawn.
(…) In light of the heavy shelling of civilian areas and increasing casualties among women and children, we reiterate the conclusion of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: that crimes against humanity have been committed and that those responsible must be brought to account.
We fear that the current impasse in international strategy is leading to an escalation in initiatives, such as arming the regime and the opposition, which could prolong the conflict and the suffering.
To break the stalemate, we must see Russia working alongside other international partners. We urge the Russian Government to join collective efforts to bring a swift end to the conflict and restore peace and stability to Syria and its surrounding region. (…) While we understand that there is no easy way out of this crisis, the moral obligation to bridge the current impasse lies with the members of the UN Security Council. (…)
See the list of signatories and full letter here. Read more about the campaign by over 200 NGOs marking one year of violence and calling on Russia to back Security Council action.
5.Now or Never: A Negotiated Transition for Syria
International Crisis Group
5 March 2012
(…) One year into the Syrian uprising, the level of death and destruction is reaching new heights. Yet, outside actors – whether regime allies or opponents – remain wedded to behaviour that risks making an appalling situation worse. Growing international polarisation simultaneously gives the regime political space to maintain an approach – a mix of limited reforms and escalating repression – that in the longer run is doomed to fail; guarantees the opposition’s full militarisation, which could trigger all-out civil war; and heightens odds of a regional proxy war that might well precipitate a dangerous conflagration. Kofi Annan’s appointment as joint UN/Arab League Special Envoy arguably offers a chance to rescue fading prospects for a negotiated transition. (…)
(…) Annan’s best hope lies in enlisting international and notably Russian support for a plan that: comprises an early transfer of power that preserves the integrity of key state institutions; ensures a gradual yet thorough overhaul of security services; and puts in place a process of transitional justice and national reconciliation that reassures Syrian constituencies alarmed by the dual prospect of tumultuous change and violent score-settling. (…)