UN Human Rights Chief Alarmed By Escalating Violence In Syria

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navane...

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(RTTNews) – Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on Friday expressed “deep alarm” over the increased threat to civilians in unrest-hit Syria, and warned the country’s government as well as the armed opposition of severe consequences if they do not abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.

“The Government has the prime responsibility to protect civilians from all forms of violence. While Government forces have on some occasions, in accordance with international humanitarian law, given civilians a clear opportunity to leave areas it is attacking, on other occasions it has not. Effective warning is required by international humanitarian law, Pillay said in a news release issued Friday.

“Civilians and civilian objects – including homes and other property, businesses, schools and places of worship – must be protected at all times. All parties, including the Government and opposition forces, must ensure that they distinguish between civilian and military targets,” she added.

The UN rights chief also expressed particular concerns over the possibility of a major confrontation between Syrian troops and opposition fighters in the country’s second largest city of Aleppo. Syrian forces have surrounded the east part of the city, which was seized by rebels last week. The rebels in Aleppo are currently bracing themselves for the imminent government offensive.

Although the rebels had launched a similar offensive last week to seize the capital city Damascus, their efforts were thwarted by government forces. While several sections of the city witnessed heavy fighting, Damascus has since been secured by Syrian security forces.

“I have been receiving as yet unconfirmed reports of atrocities, including extra-judicial killings and shooting of civilians by snipers, that took place during the recent fighting in various suburbs of Damascus. It goes without saying that the increasing use of heavy weapons, tanks, attack helicopters and – reportedly – even jet fighters in urban areas has already caused many civilian casualties and is putting many more at grave risk,” Pillay noted in Friday’s press release.

Pointing out that the conflict has so far displaced between one and 1.5 million people in Syria, the UN High Commissioner said “a discernible pattern has emerged” as government forces try to clear areas it says are occupied by opposition forces.

“Typically, during the initial stages, after a village or urban district has been surrounded, water, electricity and food supplies are cut. This is followed by intense shelling and bombardment by a variety of weaponry, increasingly with air support from attack helicopters, and now reportedly even jet aircraft. Then tanks move in, followed by ground forces who proceed door-to-door and reportedly often summarily execute people they suspect of being opposition fighters, although sometimes they detain them,” she said.

About the increasing reports of opposition fighters torturing or executing prisoners, Pillay said murder, willful killings and torture, whether committed by government or opposition forces, constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes. She said evidence gathered from various sources indicate that such crimes are being committed in Syria.

“Those who are committing them should not believe that they will escape justice. The world does not forget or forgive crimes like these. This applies to opposition forces committing crimes as well as to Government forces and their allies,” she added.

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The opposition, however, claims the actual death toll closer to 17,000.

The ongoing conflict in Syria is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community and has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in camps in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.

Placing human rights and development at the centre of globalization

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the inception of overseas development assistance almost 50 years ago, donor countries have given some two trillion US Dollars in aid. Yet, at the height of the global financial and economic crises, 18 trillion US Dollars had been found globally to bail out banks and other financial institutions, according to the UN Millennium Campaign.

A child vendor, in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, selling bread, 26 December 2011 © OHCHR/ Mohamed KheirIn a letter addressed to the President of the 13th quadrennial session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay, said that human rights, including the right to development, can help fortify and reinforce the theme of development-centred globalization.

The meeting, which took place this month in Doha, Qatar, focused its discussions on the theme: “Development Centred Globalization: Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Growth and Development”.

The report by the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Supachai Panitchpakdi, noted that globalization had been driven by speculative finance, which had established the world economy but also damaged development in developing countries. The document advocated for the start of a new era of development-led globalisation in which the state had to resume its leading role in development, with a North-South deal based on taming the financial sector; turning trade and investment towards development; managing new threats; and more democratic governance of the world economy.

While human rights experts agree that globalization must be development-centred, they also insist that development must go beyond economic growth and be founded on universally agreed human rights standards, including the right to development and rights based approaches to development.

“The process of development itself must be unlocked from the confines of an overly narrow focus on economic growth. The global economic, financial and climate crises have revealed that to reach truly inclusive and sustainable growth, we must also ensure a human face to both development and globalization,” Pillay said. “Human rights can guide our collective responses to contemporary challenges, including globalization and the global crises which have emerged in recent years.”

Participation, transparency and accountability can ensure more inclusive, more sustainable and more efficient development. Furthermore, non-discriminatory development is more equitable, and the empowerment of women, minorities and marginalized communities yields vastly more development dividend.

“Development will be inclusive and sustainable only when those who tend to be excluded have full participation in development. We must give a voice and allow for policy space for the concerns of poor, vulnerable and marginalized individuals and groups,” the High Commissioner said.

“The human rights framework, in particular, the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development, presents a development paradigm aimed at the improved well-being of all people, including through free, active and meaningful participation in development; equitable distribution of the benefits of development locally and globally; and promoting an equitable international order in which all human rights can be realized,” the High Commissioner added. “Shared responsibilities, human rights-based policy coherence and systemic integration, in my view, can further strengthen the global partnership for development.”

At the meeting, several state leaders echoed Pillay’s concern for people-centred growth and development. The civil society declaration called for “a new global social contract, based on universal human rights and on social and environmental justice” and for UNCTAD to “find constructive ways to effectively mainstream human rights – especially the right to development- in its work.”

The outcome documents – Doha Mandate and Doha Manar – acknowledged human development needs and human rights, including the right to development.


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October 2022
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