President of the Russian Federation
Dmitry Anatolyevitch Medvedev
Re: UN Security Council action on Syria
Dear President Medvedev,
We urge Russia, as one of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to take immediate steps to address the ongoing crisis in Syria. Since anti-government protests began in March, Syrian security forces have killed hundreds of protesters and arbitrarily arrested thousands. The scale of the abuses reported by Syrian human rights organizations and documented by Human Rights Watch, the similarity of violations in many locations, and reports of "shoot-to-kill" orders suggest that these abuses qualify as crimes against humanity.
Perhaps most emblematic of the violence has been the southern town of Daraa, where civilian protests began in late March. On April 25, the Syrian army imposed a siege on the town: cutting electricity, phone lines, and internet; blocking civilians' access to water, food, medicine, and other necessary supplies; denying wounded protesters access to medical assistance; and preventing any movement to and from Daraa. The security forces have killed at least 418 people in the Daraa governorate alone, according to local activists who have been maintaining a list of those killed. Exact numbers are impossible to verify, largely because Syrian authorities have blocked access for human rights monitors, journalists, and other independent observers.
Daraa has not been the only town in Syria to suffer such brutal repression. The Syrian military has also deployed tanks in Baniyas, on the coast; Homs, in central Syria; and Tafas, near Daraa. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continues to receive reports of excessive use of force against demonstrators nationwide. Security services have arbitrarily detained several thousand protesters, many of whom were beaten and tortured. They have also arbitrarily arrested and tortured activists, writers, and journalists who had reported on or expressed support for the anti-government protests. According to local activists, security forces have killed more than 887 across Syria, and some 59 people remain unaccounted for.
On April 29, the UN Human Rights Council unequivocally condemned the use of lethal violence against peaceful protesters by Syrian authorities and urged the Syrian government to immediately put an end to all human rights violations. In addition, the Human Rights Council called for an urgent investigation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights into killings and other human rights violations in Syria. Despite repeated calls by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the Syrian government to allow full access to the UN mission, the government has yet to respond. Syrian authorities have also failed to take action on the Secretary-General's calls for humanitarian access to Daraa, Latakia, Jablah, Banias, Douma, and other cities.
The Syrian government has repeatedly blamed protesters for initiating the violence and attacking security forces. While there have been isolated instances of violence against security forces by protesters, these cases have been marginal. Such incidents should certainly be further investigated, but in no way do they explain the level of violence used by authorities to crackdown on dissent. Although Syrian authorities claim they are arresting terrorists, smugglers, and other extremists, those who have been arbitrarily detained include human rights activists, university students, journalists, and peaceful protesters, including women and children and, in some instances, the family members of those sought by the security forces.
The violent crackdown in Syria can constitute a threat to international peace and security, and is similar to many previous situations in which the UN Security Council has acted. Since March, thousands have fled the violence in Syria for Lebanon and other neighboring countries. Given the grave violations that are occurring in Syria, the Security Council has a responsibility to address the ongoing violence. The Security Council has a large range of steps it can take under Chapter VI, including condemnation of the killings and other violations, targeted sanctions and arms embargoes. Russia supported the UN Security Council's initial resolution on Libya in which all such measures, and more, were taken at a time when the documented violations were at similar levels to those now reported in Syria. We do not believe that any concerns about the Libya example should stand in the way of the Security Council doing what is necessary in this case. The people of Syria should not be punished because of concerns over military intervention in Libya.
The UN Security Council should:
- Unequivocally condemn the Syrian authorities' systematic violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, and torture of detainees;
- Demand an immediate end to the unlawful use of force and support an investigation into all killings and any unlawful acts of violence;
- Support efforts to investigate the systematic, widespread, and government-sanctioned rights violations committed in Syria and prosecute those responsible;
- Urge the Syrian government to allow immediate unrestricted access to the OHCHR assessment mission, as specified in Human Rights Council resolution S-16/1; and
- Demand that the Syrian government allow immediate access to humanitarian aid groups to Daraa and other cities affected by protests, and allow journalists and human rights organizations to work freely in the country.
We strongly urge you to support immediate action by the UN Security Council on Syria.
Lyudmilla Alexeeva, Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Oleg Orlov, Chair of the Board for Memorial Human Rights Center
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director for Human Rights Watch