Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the escalating levels of violence in Syria. Since March 2011, we have documented serious human rights violations by Syrian forces amounting in certain cases to crimes against humanity, including indiscriminate shelling of residential neighborhoods, restricted humanitarian access, the unlawful use of lethal force against unarmed protesters, the arbitrary arrest and detention of thousands, and systematic and widespread torture, leading in many cases to death in detention. We have also found evidence of the use of sexual violence by Syrian forces and pro-government militias against civilians during ground operations and against detainees, including children.
We have also documented violations by antigovernment armed groups, including ill-treatment, torture, and extra-judicial execution of captured members of the government forces, pro-government militias and suspected informers.
As part of the UN-Arab League joint special envoy Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Plan, the Syrian government committed to the release of arbitrarily detained persons, including political prisoners, to grant access to detention facilities, and to respect the right to peaceful protest. The government has failed to keep these promises. Syrian security forces continue to conduct military operations in residential areas and to arbitrarily arrest and hold peaceful activists incommunicado.
The abuses documented by the CoI in its latest report underscore the need for the HRC to take immediate action. The Syrian government’s ongoing refusal to grant access to the CoI has severely undermined efforts to investigate allegations of serious crimes and gather evidence for the purpose of establishing individual criminal responsibility. Following Paulo Pinheiro’s visit to Damascus earlier this week, the Human Rights Council should continue to urge UN member States to demand access for the CoI to investigate serious violations, including the May 25, 2012 killings in Houla, arbitrary arrests, and torture in detention centers, and to support implementation of its recommendations.
Serious security concerns and the Syrian government’s lack of cooperation have inhibited the ability of UN monitors to carry out investigations in Syria. This Council should continue to call for unhindered access, including to acknowledged and secret places of detention, for UN human rights mechanisms and the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).
Finally, Human Rights Watch urges the Council to support efforts to promote accountability in Syria and to call on the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as the forum most capable of effectively investigating and prosecuting those bearing the greatest responsibility for abuses in Syria.