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Syria: Human Rights Council Should Set Up Investigation

Oral Statement at the Human Rights Council Special Session - April 29th, 2011

Human Rights Watch welcomes the holding of this Special Session in response to the alarming human rights violations in Syria. The Council today should strongly voice its condemnation over the brutal abuses committed by setting up an independent international investigation into the fatal shootings by Syria's security forces of peaceful protesters and into other human rights violations committed since protests began in mid-March.

According to Syrian human rights groups, security forces and the army have killed as many as 450 protesters and bystanders in the last six weeks. Instead of halting violations, only one day after President Bashar Al-Asad announced an end to the state of emergency, Syria's security forces killed at least 76 protesters, and possibly as many as 112. Human Rights Watch received information that in many instances, Syrian security forces or pro-Government thugs have repeatedly used live ammunition without warning against protesters, during protests that were overwhelmingly peaceful.The town of Daraahas been under siege since Monday, with security forces imposing an information blackout on civilian casualties and on the number of arrests. Syrian authorities have fiercely restricted the ability of human rights organizations and journalists to document the ongoing violence, making the need for international investigation even more critical. Promises by Syrian officials to investigate the violations ring hollow in the absence of an independent judiciary.

Syrian security and intelligence services have arbitrarily detained hundreds of protesters, subjecting large numbers of them to beating and torture, including electro-shock devices, cables, and whips. Human Rights Watch received testimonies that most detainees were held in overcrowded cells, and deprived of sleep, food, and water. None were allowed to have any contact with relatives or lawyers while in detention, and their families were not informed of their whereabouts.Most detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported being forced to sign confessions without being allowed to read them, as well as pledges not to participate in future protests.Most were released after several days, but it remains impossible to verify how many are still being held incommunicado today. Lawyers, activists, and journalists who endorsed or promoted the protests have been particularly targeted. Many of them have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured.

Syrian security forces also prevented medical personnel and others from reaching wounded protesters and prevented injured protesters from accessing hospitals in a number of towns.

The Human Rights Council must send a clear message that Syria has lost any legitimate claim for a seat as member of this body. The Council should condemn Syria's behavior, launch an investigation into the violations and remain seized of the situation until all perpetrators are brought to justice.

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