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Syria: Rights, Accountability Key to Transition Plan

Concrete Measures Needed to Rein in Security Services

(Geneva) – Accountability for serious abuses and human rights monitoring should be central to any transition plan in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today, ahead of an international meeting on Syria in Geneva on June 30, 2012. Priorities should include the immediate end of gross human rights violations, the release of political prisoners, unrestricted access for human rights monitors to detention facilities, unhindered humanitarian assistance, and a concrete road map to rein in Syria’s security services.

The “action group” meeting, announced by the UN-Arab League joint special envoy Kofi Annan on June 27, is expected to include representatives from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar as well as the secretaries-general of the United Nations and the League of Arab States and the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy. Annan announced that the objectives of the meeting would be to “identify steps and measures to secure full implementation of the six-point plan and Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043…[and to] agree on guidelines and principles for a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

“There can be no meaningful transition in Syria while security services are above the law and can violate people’s basic rights at will,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Action Group should work to ensure that the UN mission in Syria is able to properly monitor abuse and support accountability processes during and after the transition.”

A draft version of the “Non-Paper Guide-lines and Principles for a Syrian-led Transition” put forward by Annan highlights a number of important human rights principles. It acknowledges a commitment to accountability for abuses committed during the conflict but states that there must be a “continuity of governmental institutions and qualified staff…includ[ing] the military forces and security services,” noting that they must “perform according to human rights and professional standard[s].”

The leaked version of the draft Non-Paper – a UN working document outlining drafters’ ideas but without official status – calls for the establishment of a “Transitional Government of National Unity” that would govern during the transition and may “include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups, but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine (sic) the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation.”

“In tomorrow’s Syria, torturers and abusers should be on trial, not in power,” Whitson said. “Preserving rule of law is critical, but that includes making accountable the security services that have acted as the real power brokers for 40 years.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Action Group to ensure that all members of any transitional government, and in particular those linked to the military and security forces, are vetted, and that those credibly implicated in serious violations of international human rights law are suspended and prosecuted. Any plan for justice and security during a transition needs to ensure the basic rule of law, including a criminal justice system capable of protecting all Syrians from violence and abuse, but also one with judges to ensure that detention is lawful and not arbitrary, and that trials are fair.

The draft Non-Paper also notes that the transition will require ending armed violence, protecting vulnerable groups, addressing humanitarian needs, and releasing detainees. Human Rights Watch called on the Action Group to demand unrestricted access, including to all places of detention, for the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Annan plan, and the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry. Further, in accordance with the Annan plan the Action Group should demand access to “all areas affected by the fighting” for humanitarian assistance providers.

Human Rights Watch called on the Action Group countries to support a referral of Syria 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. On June 27, during a session at the UN Human Rights Council, the Maldives delivered a cross-regional statement on behalf of 23 countries supporting the UN high commissioner for human rights’ calls for a referral. Human Rights Watch has also called on the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government and targeted sanctions on people credibly implicated in serious human rights violations.

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