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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

SYRIA: Civil and political freedoms "still a concern"

DUBAI, 31 July 2005 (IRIN) - The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has welcomed Syria’s signing on to several more international human rights treaties in the past four years, but regrets that most of the concerns it highlighted in 2001 are still issues today.

Syria fell short of requirements in certain key areas, according to the committee, which monitors adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by those states that sign up to it.

The committee was particularly concerned about the death penalty, the limitation of human rights under Syria’s state of emergency, torture and other forms of ill treatment, and human rights groups’ limited freedom to operate in the country.

Among its recommendations, the committee urged Syria to “take all necessary steps” to ensure that its laws – and their implementation – ensured the “effective enjoyment” of all rights under the Covenant.

Syrian government officials in Damascus, contacted by IRIN, declined to comment on the committee’s conclusions on Sunday.

Earlier this month, in oral hearings and through written submissions, the committee considered Syria’s human rights record since the country’s last periodic report in 2001, according to a United Nations press briefing.

Committee experts raised questions about the state’s long-standing state of emergency, and wondered what had been done since about the committee’s recommendations in 2001 with regard to allegations of extrajudicial executions, disappearances and arbitrary detention, as well as torture, cruel or degrading acts by law enforcement personnel.

In its concluding observations, the committee welcomed Syria’s accession to a series of human rights instruments, including on torture, women’s and children’s rights, the protection of migrant workers, and the elimination of torture.

However, it noted with concern that “the recommendations it had addressed to Syria in 2001 had not been fully taken into consideration and regretted that most subjects of concern remained.”

The Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the state of emergency declared some 40 years ago was still in force, resulting in the violation of many civil and political rights.

It concluded, for instance, that the nature and number of the offences carrying the death penalty in Syria were not consistent with the requirements of the Covenant, and expressed deep concern at “the de facto reinstitution of death sentences and executions in 2002”.

While noting the Syrian delegation’s submission on measures taken against some law enforcement officials for acts of ill-treating prisoners, the committee said it “remained deeply concerned at continuing reports of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Obstacles to the registration and free operation of non-governmental human rights organisations in Syria were another source of concern, it said, expressing concern at what it called “the intimidation, harassment and arrest of human rights defenders”.

The continuing detention of several human rights defenders was worrying, the committee noted, as were the refusal to register certain human rights groups and “extensive limitations on the right to freedom of opinion and expression in practice”.

Introducing Syria’s report to the committee earlier in the month, Bashar Jaafari, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the government was “keen to implement all its international obligations with regard to all international human rights bodies”.

The development and modernisation path followed by the government since the election of President Hafez al-Assad in 2000 “had led Syria to collaborate fully with international human rights organisations, and Syria had gone further than many states which claimed to defend human rights”, he said.

The setting-up of an independent human rights monitoring body was currently under investigation, Jaafari said. As for domestic human rights policy, Syria would soon begin to implement the important recommendations adopted by the National Congress to defend human rights.

Syria argued in its report that the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights since June 1967 deprived Syria of the possibility of applying all the provisions of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

And the death penalty, it said, “is imposed only in rare cases when the crime is deemed to be exceptionally atrocious or is committed by a highly dangerous habitual criminal.”

Answering questions posed by the committee, the Syrian delegation said that “legislative steps had been taken to encourage a multi-party political system, and that further steps would be taken to modernise legislation with a view to protecting freedom of expression.”

Among its recommendations, the Human Rights Committee urged that Syria “should take firm measures to stop the use of incommunicado detention and eradicate all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law enforcement officials”.

The state should also ensure “prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations by an independent mechanism into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment”. Not alone that, but it should “prosecute and punish perpetrators, and provide effective remedies and rehabilitation to the victims”.

Syria was also called on to ensure that any actions it takes that violate the rights guaranteed under the Covenant must be “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation”.

Christine Chanet, chairperson of the committee, said during the proceedings that the Syrian delegation's answers had been “somewhat biting at times” – but that this was all part of the interaction required to ensure that states complied with their rights obligations.

It was hoped the next report would give rise to fewer questions and would have more positive elements, she added.


Themes: (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights




This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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