THE RECENT REPORT ON SYRIA BY THE “INDIPENDENT INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY” (CoI) mandated by the Human Rights Council is one-sided and lacks evidences
Marinella Correggia, ecopeace activist, Italy
The No War Network-Roma (Italy) adresses the following note to some country representatives at the United Nations (New York and Geneva).
The recent report on Syria issued by the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry (CoI) offers many conclusions but little real proof to back them up. The commission was, in fact, able to hear as witnesses only a very small and non-random selection of Syrian citizens. This has made the Commission's report highly one-sided. It will b discussed on Sept 17th by the Un Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The NoWar Network – Rome (Italy) calls for a negotiated solution to the conflict in Syria, starting with a cease fire. The Syrian people should, in fact, have the possibility of expressing themselves on their future, in conditions of peace and without foreign interference.
Such a Plan for Peace was recently put forward by a representative of the U.N. It was, however, thwarted by a certain number of foreign powers bent on deliberately exacerbating the conflict in Syria by supplying ever greater amounts of arms and money to those opposition forces striving to gain control of the country through violence. The foreign powers in question – and their mass media – have justified their patent interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state by claiming it was, and is, necessary to “protect civilians”, specifically “to stop the massacres perpetrated by the Syrian government against unarmed protesters”.
The hard reality of a year and half of unabated killings, by both sides to the conflict, does not support this simplistic representation of the drama unfolding in Syria.
Unfortunately, this simplistic representation seems to have served as the framework for the investigation into the Syrian conflict conducted by the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria. See: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/PRCoISyria15082012_en.pdf
My full analysis in Italian is here (bottom of the doc): http://www.sibialiria.org/wordpress/?p=777
The CoI report is due to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on September 17th, in Geneva.
The Commission concludes that there are “reasonable grounds” to hold that Syrian government forces and Syrian paramilitary irregulars (“shabbiha”) have been mandated by the government to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The Commission also says that opposition forces committed human rights violation, but minimizes their nature and seriousness and does not blame the opposition chiefs.
The NoWar Network – Italy and the Research Centre for the Truth against the Wars have studied the Commission's report. We find it full of contradictions and omissions. Above all, we denounce the partiality of the sources and the formulation of accusations not supported by hard evidence. Our findings appear (in Italian) on the web site www.sibialiria.org. A summary of that analysis follows.
To begin with, the report lacks credibility because the investigators, by their own admission, did not have, or did not obtain, the relatively free access to the country that the U.N. Observer Mission had enjoyed before them. (Completely free access is always impossible in war zones.) This restriction, in the words of the Commission itself, “significantly hindered the Commission's ability to fulfill its mandate.” Randomly chosen and geographically widely-distributed “victims and eye witnesses could not be interviewed in person.” In particular the “access to the victims of opposition violence was limited” and “access to the Syrian army and to members of the Syrian government was almost nonexistent.” Civil or religious groups in Syria, such as the Sovvt (Syrian Observatory for victims of violence and terrorism) or Vox Clamantis (a Catholic media center), could have furnished witnesses and victims of violence to be interrogated by the Commission even by phone, and also an alternative version of many events. Even the UN observers are rarely quoted by the report.
We note also that the CoI report quoted and refers to former reports by UN Commissions and Ngos which are equally one-sided concerning the witnesses and lack evidences.
Instead, as the report states, the Commission conducted its interviews – several hundred in all – among Syrian refugees now living in neighboring countries or, through Skype or cellphone connections from Geneva, among a restricted group of Syrians living inside the country. Who were the people making up this latter group? On the basis of an analysis of the geographical distribution of the calls and taking into consideration the previous reports by the same Commission, it seems highly likely that the Commission interviewed mostly those Syrians who belong to the opposition movement.
Thus the Commission heard representatives of one side giving their version of those events – such as the massacre at Houla – for which, according to media reports, two versions (or more) seem to exist. Indeed, as often occurs in cases of civil unrest, the violence in Syria is probably many sided and, in any case, disparate: numerous witnesses of atrocities, cited in reports coming out of Syria (but not in the Commission report), have in fact complained that it was not possible to identify the assailants; or that the symbols or uniforms worn did not seem genuine; or that the violence committed seemed to be absolutely indiscriminate. In short, there is a vast gray area surrounding the perpetration of atrocities in Syria that belies the neat, black and white account presented by the Commission.
For instance, it is clear that, in a conflict like the one in Syria, that armed groups belonging to the opposition have invaded and taken over largely pro-government neighborhoods, thus making the inhabitants there virtual hostages; it is also conceivable that some of these inhabitants might have paid dearly for their lack of support of the opposition. Nothing of this kind appears in the Commission's report. Nor do the witnesses interviewed speak of the gruesome acts of intimidation by opposition forces that have surfaced in Western media.
As for the “regime crimes” it goes to great lengths to denounce, the Commission makes no distinction between actions committed by the Syrian army, for which the Commission rightly holds the government responsible, and bloodshed caused by armed pro-government civilians, lumped together under the label “shabbiha” (which the Commission itself considers a nebulous entity). In any virulent civil conflict, civilians on both sides are wont to take up arms spontaneously and may kill accidentally or indiscriminately; they may even, at times, commit deliberate crimes. Yet in the Commission's report we discover for the most part only those killings and crimes committed by the civilians on the government side. What is more, because any armed pro-government civilian is (for the Commission) necessarily a “shabbiha”, the government is held responsible for any and all violent acts committed.
Even more glaring is the total absence of any reference to a “third party” in the violence in Syria, for example the death squads that, according to leaked government documents, foreign powers have financed and sent into Syria. The witnesses interviewed by the Commission seem to have seen practically nothing but the violence committed by government mandated forces.
And yet independent media have described, for example, a long list of terrorist bombings, which have partially destroyed key government buildings and killed dozens of civilians in and around them. News media have managed to report from the scene of such events and to debunk the hypothesis that these crimes might have been perpetrated by the government itself in order to discredit the opposition, since too many vital government interests were touched. The Commission, however, claiming that it “lacks sufficient access” to the scene of the bombings, has refused to attribute these war crimes to the opposition and, instead, lists them as unaccountable internal disorders.
The Commission is silent also on the several sabotages of public infrastructures occurred in 2011/12.
In conclusion, given the Commission's international mandate, the partiality and one-sidedness of the CoI report is both flabbergasting and disconcerting. Has the U.N. no internal assessment mechanism to prevent such abuses in the “documentation” of events upon which the U.N. is then required to act?