(Geneva) - The United Nations Human Rights Council should strongly condemn repression of peaceful protests in Syria and mount an investigation into recent violence, Human Rights Watch said. The council is meeting to discuss Syria on April 29, 2011, following a request for a special session by 16 council members, including the United States, South Korea, Mexico, Senegal, and Zambia.
The United States has put forward a draft resolution for the session that condemns the killing, arrest, and torture of peaceful protesters in Syria and calls for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into abuses in the country.
"Syria's President Bashar al-Assad needs to hear an unequivocal message from the Human Rights Council that violent suppression of peaceful protests is unacceptable and will have consequences," said Julie de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. "An international investigation into the Syria crackdown should help deter further violence."
Human Rights Watch has reported that Syrian security forces have responded to largely peaceful protests with lethal force, including live ammunition fired from military assault weapons, resulting in at least 300 deaths. The death toll from the violence could be as high as 453, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions stressed that "live ammunition is being used in clear violation of international law."
The violence has escalated in recent days with more than 100 protesters killed on April 22-23, according to Human Rights Watch. The authorities have prevented medical personnel in at least two towns from tending to wounded protesters, and injured people have been denied access to hospitals. They have also detained at least 1,100 protesters, some of whom have been beaten and tortured. The security services have also arbitrarily arrested and tortured activists, writers, and journalists who have reported on or expressed support for the anti-government protests.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has circulated an alternative text to the draft council resolution that softens all language critical of Syria and includes no action to address the ongoing crisis. Four Syrian and Egyptian human rights organizations have denounced the OIC's position, and called on the Arab League to publicly reject the OIC's revisions. The organizations said that the OIC's proposals "constitute an additional crime against the Syrian people and an insult to the blood of martyrs of democratic uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain."
While suppressing protests at home, Syria is actively campaigning for a seat on the Human Rights Council, with elections to the body scheduled in the UN General Assembly on May 20. The draft resolution states that the General Assembly resolution establishing the council "requires Member States to take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights" when electing new members. Although that proposition would seem unassailable, Nigeria, on behalf of the African Group, objected to its inclusion in the draft resolution. Middle Eastern and Asian human rights organizations have also called for UN member states to reject Syria's bid for a seat on the Council.
"Governments should tell Syria in no uncertain terms that its rampant abuses disqualify it from membership on the Human Rights Council," de Rivero said. "Syria's election bid discredits all those who support it, as well as the council itself."
Human Rights Watch has also called for urgent action by the Human Rights Council on the ongoing human rights crises in Bahrain and Yemen, which to date have not been addressed by the council.