8593rd Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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07-Aug-2019 02:07:09
Security Council failing thousands of people detained, abducted in Syria, civil society speakers say, demanding information about missing persons’ whereabouts at 8593rd meeting.

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Owing to vetoes and excuses by some of its members, the Security Council has so far “utterly failed” tens of thousands of people arbitrarily detained, abducted or disappeared in Syria, stressed civil society representatives today, as they demanded information about detainees’ whereabouts and support for grieving families.

“This Council can save lives if it chooses to act today,” said Amina Khoulani, co-founder of the organization Families for Freedom, as she briefed the 15-member Council about the fate of those detained during Syria’s eight-year-long conflict. Sharing her own story, she said her family witnessed and suffered the brutality of the Syrian regime first-hand. All of her four brothers were detained; of those, three were killed in detention. She and her husband were also arrested and fled the country after their release from prison. “We were both lucky to survive, but others were not so lucky,” she said, noting that many of those detained may be sick, subjected to torture or scheduled for execution — most without a fair trial. Against the backdrop of such violations of international law, she urged the Council to put pressure on all parties in Syria to release the names and whereabouts of those in detention; allow humanitarian actors to visit detention centres; and compel the parties to provide information to the families of victims.

Hala Al Ghawi, a doctor who also co-founded Families for Freedom and the organization Syria’s Bright Future, recalled that she left the country in 2011 after her husband was detained. Other family members and many of her medical colleagues were also detained by Syria’s Government for helping wounded protesters, some were tortured and killed while in detention. “It is in memory of them — and of the hundreds of thousands of disappeared and murdered Syrians — that I appear before you today,” she said. Describing survivors’ reports of physical and sexual abuse, torture, starvation and solitary confinement — along with lasting psychological trauma after release — she echoed her colleague’s call on the Council to pass a resolution pressuring the Government and all warring sides to immediately release a list of detainee names, along with their locations and status, and to immediately stop torture and mistreatment.

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, also briefed, stressing that Council resolution 2474 (2019) established a clear link between the situation of missing persons in armed conflict and conflict resolution more broadly. Information from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and groups on the ground suggest that more than 100,000 people have so far been detained, abducted or gone missing — largely, but not only, at the hands of the Syrian Government. The United Nations has also received reports of civilians detained or disappeared as part of so-called “reconciliation agreements”. “Justice and accountability for these abuses must be ensured, regardless of the perpetrators,” she said, stressing that those elements are central to achieving and maintaining a durable peace in Syria.

As Council members took the floor, several speakers underscored the importance of properly addressing the situation of detained, abducted and missing persons to reduce tensions and build trust between the parties. Some noted that the issue was one of five priorities outlined in the Council’s landmark resolution 2254 (2015) on the way forward to end the conflict. Several delegates underlined the right of families to know the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, while some also advocated for the establishment of a national reparations’ mechanism tasked with assessing harm done, receiving complaints and providing remedies to victims.

The representative of the United Kingdom was among those speakers welcoming the Council’s consideration of “this long overdue subject”. Calling for the release of all those arbitrarily detained, she echoed calls from today’s civil society briefers that the parties provide access to detention centres and information about those detained to their families. Asking that Syria’s delegate relay those demands to his Government this week, she welcomed the work of the Commission of Inquiry as well as the journalists and non-governmental actors who work to document crimes being committed. Delivering justice for the families of those detained is not only the right thing to do, but is crucial for a genuine, sustainable political settlement, she stressed.

The United States delegate recalled the 2013 release of more than 50,000 photos of those who had died while under torture by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime — “damning” evidence of the latter’s systematic use of torture. Emphasizing that there can be no political solution without a reversal of those abhorrent practices and guarantees that regime officials will be held responsible for them, he said the nearly 128,000 people currently detained by the regime must be immediately and unilaterally released. Syria’s authorities must also grant the United Nations immediate access to their detention centres, he said, stressing the imperative of ensuring that conditions are in line with international legal standards and noting that Syria’s own Constitution outlaws the use of torture and humiliation.

The representative of the Russian Federation, on the other hand, voiced concern about the use of non-objective data to obtain information about those detained in Syria — as well as attempts to distort the situation and hinder the peace process. Reiterating his delegation’s longstanding objection to the politicization of human rights issues, he said the only accusations made during today’s meeting are against the Government of Syria, while terrorists — who have introduced executions and torture in the country — are presented as innocent victims. The international community should help Syria recover from a conflict fanned by those now expressing concern about humanitarian conditions, he said, recalling a successful exchange of prisoners under the auspices of the Astana format on 31 July.

Syria’s representative, meanwhile, rejected attempts by the United States, France and the United Kingdom to exploit the United Nations in order to denigrate his country. For centuries, those nations have distorted noble humanitarian goals to impose their hostile colonial agendas — including by toppling legitimate Governments and destabilizing regions. They now seek to sow a campaign of disinformation, mislead the international community and conceal the suffering of civilians, he said, stressing that they have rained bombs down on Syria, used civilians as shields and supported terrorist groups. While those countries attempt to weigh the Council down with meetings, Syria stands committed to constructively addressing the plight of detainees and missing persons under its own sovereign laws. Indeed, he stressed, Syria “will not accept blackmail” by Council members.

Also speaking were representatives of France, Germany, Kuwait, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Belgium, Indonesia, China, Peru, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa and Poland.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:12 p.m.

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