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NGOs urge Asian States not to allow Syria to run for Human Rights Council membership

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Thirty NGOs sent the following open letter urging member countries of the Asian group of states to remove Syria from their slate of candidates to the forthcoming Human Council Elections on 20 May. Syria has responded to ongoing peaceful pro-democracy protests with lethal force, including live ammunition, resulting in more than 100 deaths. The authorities have also detained at least 516 protestors; while at least 246 were released after a few days, with the remainder in incommunicado detention.


To: Member States of the Asia Group
Re: Syria’s Candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council

April 5, 2011

Your Excellency,

As nongovernmental organizations working to promote human rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), we are deeply concerned that the Asia Group has endorsed a slate of four candidates that includes Syria for the four Asia Group vacancies on the Council this year. Since the Asia Group’s decision was taken in January, security forces in Syria have responded to largely peaceful protests with lethal force, including live ammunition, resulting in more than 100 deaths. The authorities have also detained at least 516 protestors; while at least 246 were released after a few days, the remainder remains in incommunicado detention. Foreign journalists have been denied access to Syria to cover the protests, and Syrian bloggers and journalists operate at great risk, with many detained.

Given the significant deterioration in the human rights situation in Syria, we urge the Asia Group to reconsider its slate for the May 20 election. In particular, we ask that you call upon Syria to withdraw its bid for a Human Rights Council seat. Should Syria refuse such a request, the Asia Group should rescind its endorsement of the existing slate, and make clear that other Asia Group states are welcome to put forward their candidacies for the HRC. These steps are essential for the Asia Group to have a consistent and credible approach to the HRC elections, given the General Assembly’s consensus decision to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council on March 1.

The General Assembly resolution that established the HRC five years ago states that members shall “uphold the highest standards” of human rights, and provides that states should compete for membership based on the contribution they would make to promoting and protecting human rights. It also provides that the General Assembly may suspend the membership rights of a state that commits “gross and systematic violations of human rights.”

The current situation in Syria grows out of Syria’s longstanding record of serious human rights violations, abuses that we believe made endorsement of Syria’s candidacy inappropriate even before the recent crackdown. Under emergency rule that has been in place since 1963, Syria’s multiple security agencies arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals, holding them incommunicado for long periods, in effect forcibly disappearing them. The UN Committee against Torture said in May 2010 that it was “deeply concerned about numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations concerning the routine use of torture by law enforcement and investigative officials.” At least five persons died in custody in 2010, with their deaths receiving no serious official investigation. Syrian law provides Syrian security services extensive immunity for acts of torture.

Syria’s Supreme State Security Court, conducting trials that do not meet international fair trial standards, frequently sentences Kurdish activists and Islamists to long prison terms. Syria has no independent press, and the government censors popular websites. Over the last two years, the authorities have detained, prosecuted, and imprisoned journalists, bloggers, writers, human rights activists, and lawyers in violation of their fundamental rights. The government denies licenses for all Syrian human rights groups, and prevents rights activists from traveling abroad. Syrian authorities continue to suppress the political and cultural rights of the Kurdish minority, including banning the teaching of Kurdish in schools and regularly disrupting gatherings to celebrate Kurdish festivals such as the Kurdish New Year.

Your government and other governments in the Asia Group should take immediate action to avoid undermining the group’s credibility. With the election for the Human Rights Council still seven weeks away, there is no reason to feel bound by an endorsement made in January before the current human rights crisis in Syria erupted. We respectfully urge your government to join with other members of the Asia Group to urge Syria to withdraw and, failing that step, to rescind the endorsement of the slate and expressly open it to additional Asia Group candidates.

With highest regard,

The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
Hannah Forster, Executive Director

The African Democracy Forum (ADF)
Hannah Forster, Chairperson

The Ansar Burney Trust International, United Kingdom
Ansar Burney, Chairman

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
Wong Kai Shing, Executive Director

Athupopo Social Foundation, India
Mow Sunil, Director

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Bahey Eldin Hassan, Director

Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Cambodia
Virak Ou, President

Christian Development Alternative (CDA), Bangladesh
William Nicholas Gomes, Executive Director

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Iniyan Ilango, Coordinator, Strategic Initiatives Programme

Community Legal Aid Institute (LBH Masyarakat), Indonesia
Ricky Gunawan, Program Director

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
Radwan Ziadeh, Director

Democracy Coalition Project
Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
Hassan Shire Sheikh, Executive Director

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Hossam Bahgat, Director

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), Thailand
CJ Hinke, Coordinator

Guria, India
Ajeet Singh, President

Human Rights Watch
Peggy Hicks, Global Advocacy Director

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Bjorn Pettersson, Director

Jagaran Media Center (JMC), Nepal
Rem Bahadur BK, Chairperson

Janasansadaya, Sri Lanka
Chitral Perera, Secretary

Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF), Thailand
Anghkana Neelapaijit, Chairperson

Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria
Radeef Mustapha, President of the Board

Kurdish Organization for Defending Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria – DAD
Mustapha Osso, Chairman of the Board

Siamend Hajo, Director

National Organization for Human Rights
Ammar Qurabi, Chairman

Syrian Human Rights Committee
Walid Saffour, President

Syrian Human Rights Information Link
Razan Zaitouneh, Editor

West African Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN)
Diallo Gadiry, Coordinator

Workers Assistance Center, Inc., the Philippines
Cecilia V. Tuico, International Relations Program Officer