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UN: Human Rights Monitors Still Needed in Syria

Future Presence Should Include Rights Experts, Visit Prisons, Report Publicly

(New York) – The United Nations Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should ensure the continuation of human rights monitoring in Syria after the expiration of the current mandate. The mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) is set to end on August 19, 2012, and Security Council members will meet on August 16to discuss the future of the UN presence in the country.

“The intensification of the conflict only makes the need for international human rights monitors more urgent,” said Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch. “UN rights experts would help set the record straight on human rights abuses by all sides and lay the groundwork for future accountability.”

In an August 10 letter to the Security Council, Ban stated that, “A flexible United Nations presence in Syria would provide the United Nations with an impartial means of assessing the situation on the ground, which would thus permit it to address the situation more effectively.”

This would be best achieved by including human rights experts in any future UN mission, Human Rights Watch said. The experts should be able to report publicly on both sides’ compliance with human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians, respect for the right to peaceful assembly, humane treatment in detention, and the release of people who have been arbitrarily detained.

Former detainees and defectors from Syrian security forces who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch have reported widespread torture, including sexual abuse, beatings, and use of electric shock devices in Syrian government detention facilities. Detainees have routinely been held incommunicado. Human Rights Watch has also documented the torture and mistreatment of detainees held by some armed opposition groups. Gaining access from the Syrian authorities and armed opposition groups to all detention facilities – both acknowledged and secret – should be a key task of human rights experts in the future UN presence, Human Rights Watch said.

The intensification of the armed conflict between Syrian government forces and the armed opposition has also put the lives of civilians at increasing risk. In recent days, Human Rights Watch has interviewed families who fled government shelling and aerial attacks in the city of Aleppo.They described extensive destruction and damage to houses, bakeries, and other structures. Images and accounts from Aleppo and its environs by international journalists confirm these reports. The government’s use of heavy artillery with a wide blast radius and other indirect-fire weapons without adequate spotters against military targets in populated areas raise serious concerns about indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, Human Rights Watch said.

The mission was established in April to monitor Syrian authorities’ and opposition forces’ compliance with Kofi Annan’s six-point plan to end hostilities in Syria. Due to security concerns, the mission’s former head, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, announced a temporary suspension of the UN’s monitoring activities in Syria in June. On July 20, the Security Council renewed UNSMIS’s mandate for a final 30 days, with the view to renewing the mandate further only if both sides stopped using heavy weapons and reduced the level of violence.

“After months of inaction and three resolutions vetoed by Russia and China, the Security Council has failed to curb human rights abuses in Syria,” Bolopion said. “Rigorous, impartial public reporting of the conduct of both the government of Syria and the armed opposition will help it to reclaim a role in protecting human rights in Syria.”

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