UN's Human Rights Commissioner Slams World's 'Paralysis' As Syria Toll Hits 191,000
August 25, 2014
NBC World News & Al Jazeera America & OHCHR
After six years as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay's term ends on August 30. In a parting statement she rebuked the UN Security Council for putting short-term geopolitical concerns and narrowly-defined national interests ahead of stopping mass atrocities and grave breaches of global peace and security. Noting the deaths of more than 10,000 children in Syria's war, Pillay declared: "Greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives."
UN's Pillay Slams World's 'Paralysis' As Syria Toll Hits 191,000
NBC World News
(August 24, 2014) -- World powers were castigated by the UN's human rights chief Friday for failing act over Syria as new analysis put the death toll in the conflict at 191,369. The figure is more than double the number documented a year ago and probably still an under-estimate, according to the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
In a statement issued days before she is due to step down from her role, Pillay "deeply" regretted that the "murderous" conflict had "dropped off the international radar" and condemned inaction by the UN Security Council -- which includes the US, China, France, Russia and the U.K. as well as 10 non-permanent members. [See Pillay's complete statement below.]
"The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis," the high commissioner said. "There are serious allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed time and time again with total impunity, yet the Security Council has failed to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court, where it clearly belongs."
The latest death toll, covering the period between March 2011 and the end of April 2014, came from the third study of its kind by the UN Human Rights Office into deaths in Syria.
UN Human Rights Chief Rebukes Security Council
Al Jazeera America
(August 21, 2014) -- Outgoing UN rights chief Navi Pillay rebuked the UN Security Council on Thursday for putting short-term geopolitical concerns and narrowly-defined national interests ahead of stopping mass atrocities and grave breaches of global peace and security.
"I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Pillay told the 15-member body during her final briefing after six years as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her term ends on Aug. 30.
Pillay spoke at a meeting where the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution promising more aggressive efforts to prevent conflicts.
British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the council for August, said the body needed to "to switch from a culture of reaction to a mindset of conflict prevention."
However, the resolution said little about the political differences that often paralyze the Security Council, where sharp divisions between veto-wielding members Russia and the United States have often thwarted action on Syria and Ukraine.
Pillay touched on the problem in her remarks.
"Short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of -- and long-term threats to -- international peace and security," she said.
She enumerated crises in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Gaza, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan and said they "hammer home" the international community's failure to prevent conflict.
Pillay pointed to Syria's conflict saying it "is metastasizing outwards in an uncontrollable process whose eventual limits we cannot predict."
And she slammed the council for its consistent lack of response to slow-burning flashpoints. "None of these crises erupted without warning. They built up over years -- and sometimes decades -- of human rights grievances," said Pillay, a South African jurist.
She suggested the Security Council come up with possible new responses to rights violations, such as deploying rapid, flexible and resource-efficient human rights monitoring missions that would be limited in time and scope.
Pillay criticized the use of veto power on the Security Council saying "to stop action intended to prevent or defuse conflict is a short-term and ultimately counter-productive tactic."
Her successor, Jordan's Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, who will start his four-year appointment next month, could also informally brief the Security Council once a month in a bid to strengthen early warnings of potential crises, she said.
Pillay also recommended building on the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which aims to regulate the $85 billion arms industry and keep weapons out of the hands of rights abusers and criminals.
"States parties could agree that where there are concerns about human rights in states that purchase arms, one condition of sale would be that they accept a small human-rights monitoring team," she said.
The treaty is due to enter into force once 50 countries have presented proof of ratification to the United Nations. At least 31 countries have so far ratified the treaty.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that even modest, early UN action could be important when it had full support from the Security Council.
"However, when there is limited consensus -- when our actions come late and address only the lowest common denominator -- the consequences can be measured in terrible loss of life, grave human suffering and tremendous loss of credibility for this council and our institution," Ban told the council.
'Iraqi Civilians Suffering "Horrific"
Widespread and Systematic Persecution' -- Pillay
Office of the High Commission for Human Rights
GENEVA (August 25, 2014) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Monday condemned the appalling, widespread and systematic deprivation of human rights in Iraq by ISIL (the self-proclaimed "Islamic State") and associated forces.
The violations include targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of places of religious and cultural significance, and the besieging of entire communities because of ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation. Among those directly targeted have been Christians, Yezidi, Shabaks, Turkomen, Kaka'e and Sabaeans.
"Grave, horrific human rights violations are being committed daily by ISIL and associated armed groups," Pillay said. "They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control. Such persecution would amount to crimes against humanity."
In Nineveh Governorate, hundreds of mostly Yezidi individuals were reported killed and up to 2,500 kidnapped at the beginning of August. The abductees were reportedly being held in various locations in Tal Afar and Mosul. Individuals who agreed to convert are being held under ISIL guard.
Of those who refused to convert, witnesses report that the men were executed while the women and their children were taken as slaves and either handed over to ISIL fighters as slaves or threatened with being sold.
Similarly, in Cotcho village in Southern Sinjar, ISIL killed and abducted hundreds of Yezidis on 15 August. Reports indicate, again, that the male villagers were killed while women and children were taken away to unknown locations. Inhabitants of a number of other villages in Sinjar, which remain besieged by ISIL and associated armed groups, are at serious risk.
"UN staff members in Iraq have been receiving harrowing phone calls from besieged civilians who are surviving in terrible conditions, with little or no access to humanitarian aid," Pillay said. "One of the women abducted by ISIL managed to call our staff, and told them that her teenage son and daughter were among the many who had been raped and sexually assaulted by ISIL gunmen. Another said her son had been raped at a checkpoint."
Pillay also stressed the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to individuals displaced by the conflict and those besieged in ISIL-controlled areas.
At least 13,000 members of the Shia Turkmen community in Amirli in Salah al-Din Governorate, among them 10,000 women and children, have been besieged by ISIL and associated armed groups since 15 June. Residents are enduring harsh living conditions with severe food and water shortages, and a complete absence of medical services – and there are fears of a possible imminent massacre.
The High Commissioner echoed the urgent call by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq for the international community to work with the authorities to prevent a humanitarian and human rights tragedy.
The displacement of thousands of Christians and members of the Turkmen and Shabak communities, who fled Mosul and other cities in Nineveh that are under ISIL control, is also of serious concern. Having fled their homes fearing reprisals and executions, many of the displaced people are living in dire conditions within the Kurdistan region and in other locations in the country.
"The Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and the international community must take all necessary measures and spare no effort to protect members of ethnic and religious communities, who are particularly vulnerable, and to secure their return to their places of origin in safety and dignity," said Pillay.
The effect of the ongoing conflict on children is catastrophic. According to interviews by UN human rights monitors with displaced families, ISIL is forcibly recruiting boys aged 15 and above. ISIL has also reportedly been deliberately positioning the boys at the front-line in battle situations, as human shields.
The Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq has also verified reports of a massacre of prisoners and detainees in Mosul's Badoush Prison on 10 June. According to interviews with 20 survivors and 16 witnesses of the massacre, ISIL gunmen loaded between 1,000 and 1,500 prisoners onto trucks and transported them to a nearby uninhabited area.
There, armed men asked the Sunnis to separate themselves from the others. Around 100 prisoners who joined the Sunni group were suspected by ISIL not to be Sunni and were subjected to individual checks based on how they prayed and their place of origin. Sunni inmates were ordered back on the trucks and left the scene. ISIL gunmen then yelled insults at the remaining prisoners, lined them up in four rows, ordered them to kneel and opened fire. Up to 670 prisoners were reportedly killed.
"Such cold-blooded, systematic and intentional killings of civilians, after singling them out for their religious affiliation may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity," the High Commissioner said.
In other areas of the country, there are increasing reports of killings targeting civilians. In Basra, 19 members of the Sunni community were killed, some of them after they were kidnapped by unknown assailants.
Last Friday, dozens of Sunni worshippers were killed in an attack on a mosque in Diyala Province. In Baghdad, medical sources indicate that at least 15 bodies are found in the city on a daily basis – all appear to have been bound and executed. Civilians have also been killed in airstrikes by the Iraqi Security Forces in Anbar and Nineveh Governorates.
"All parties to the conflict in Iraq have the responsibility not to target civilians or civilian objects, to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities, and to respect, protect and meet the basic humanitarian needs of the civilian population," Pillay stressed. "According to international law, the severe deprivation of fundamental rights by reason of the identity of a group or collectivity amounts to the crime against humanity of persecution."
"I urge the international community to ensure that the perpetrators of these vicious crimes do not enjoy impunity. Any individual committing, or assisting in the commission of international crimes, must be held accountable according to law."
Pillay Castigates "Paralysis" on Syria, as New UN Study Indicates over 191,000 People Killed
GENEVA (August 22, 2014) -- An updated analysis carried out by data specialists on behalf of the UN Human Rights Office has led to the compilation of a list of 191,369 cases of individuals reported killed in Syria between March 2011 and the end of April 2014, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay announced Friday.
"With additional killings reported from earlier periods, in addition to the new killings that have taken place, the total is more than double the number documented a year ago. Nevertheless, as the report explains, tragically it is probably an underestimate of the real total number of people killed during the first three years of this murderous conflict," Pillay said.
"I deeply regret that, given the onset of so many other armed conflicts in this period of global destabilization, the fighting in Syria and its dreadful impact on millions of civilians has dropped off the international radar," the High Commissioner added.
The latest study -- the third in a series commissioned by the UN Human Rights Office -- was conducted using a combined list of 318,910 reported killings, fully identified by the name of the victim, as well as the date and location of the death.
Any reported killing that did not include at least these three elements was excluded from the list, which was compiled using datasets from five different sources (1), three of which have reported killings throughout the whole three-year period, and two of which -- including the Government of Syria -- cover only part of the period.
Records of reported killings were compared in order to identify duplicates. After duplicates were merged, the combined dataset was reduced to 191,369 unique records of conflict-related deaths as of 30 April 2014.
The statistical analysts (2) who produced all three UN reports stressed that: "The enumeration is not the complete number of conflict-related killings in Syria." The report says that, despite the possibility of a small number of duplicate or erroneously reported deaths being included, this total is likely to underestimate the actual number of killings.
This conclusion is based on the fact that 51,953 reported killings containing insufficient information were excluded from the analysis, and that there is a strong likelihood that a significant number of killings may not have been reported at all by any of the five sources.
The greatest number of documented killings was recorded in the Governorate of Rural Damascus (39,393), with the next highest numbers recorded in Aleppo (31,932), Homs (28,186), Idlib (20,040), Daraa (18,539) and Hama (14,690).
Some 85.1 percent (162,925) of the victims documented so far are male, and 9.3 percent (17,795) are female. As in the previous reports, the analysis was not able to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants. The killings of 8,803 minors, including 2,165 children under ten years old, have been documented so far and the real total is likely to be higher, given that in 83.8 percent of cases, the victim's ages have not so far been recorded.
"It is scandalous that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained, and the relatives of all those who have been killed or are missing is no longer attracting much attention, despite the enormity of their suffering," Pillay said.
"It is a real indictment of the age we live in that not only has this been allowed to continue so long, with no end in sight, but it is also now impacting horrendously on hundreds of thousands of other people across the border in northern Iraq, and the violence has also spilled over into Lebanon."
"The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis," the High Commissioner said. "There are serious allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed time and time again with total impunity, yet the Security Council has failed to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court, where it clearly belongs.
"It is essential Governments take serious measures to halt the fighting and deter the crimes, and above all stop fuelling this monumental, and wholly avoidable, human catastrophe through the provision of arms and other military supplies."
1 The five datasets analysed in this report were those provided by the Government of Syria (up to end March 2012 only), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (up to end April 2013 only), the Syrian Centre for Statistics and Research, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and the Violations Documentation Centre.
2 The analysis was carried out, on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, a non-profit organization comprising statisticians, computer scientists, demographers and social scientists with extensive experience in statistical analysis of data relating to human rights violations.
To see the latest Updated Statistical Analysis of Documentation of Killings in the Syrian Arab Republic in full, go to: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/SY/HRDAGUpdatedReportAug2014.pdf
The original Preliminary Analysis, published on 2 January 2013, can be viewed at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/SY/PreliminaryStatAnalysisKillingsInSyria.pdf
The first Updated Analysis, published on 13 June 2013, can be viewed at:
To view the reports of the independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and other materials relating to the human rights situation in the country, go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/SYIndex.aspx
For more information or interview requests, please contact Rupert Colville (firstname.lastname@example.org / +41 22 917 9767) or Ravina Shamdasani (email@example.com / +41 22 917 9169).
Security Council Open Debate on
Maintenance of International Peace and Security
Navi Pillay / UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Distinguished members of the Council,
Thank you for this opportunity to interact with the Security Council a few days before the end of my term.
Conflict prevention is complex, but it can be achieved. In many States, democratic institutions de-escalate disputes long before they reach boiling point. Even after violence has broken out, international actors can help broker and enforce peace. In my own country, South Africa, the United Nations helped end 300 years of injustice when it declared apartheid a crime against humanity and imposed sanctions; and democratic institutions were installed to resolve future disputes.
In Nepal, following almost a decade of armed conflict, my Office's efforts included, deployment of both short- and long-term strategies. They included support for Constituent Assembly elections; and capacity-building for police, civil society, and important government initiatives such as addressing caste based discrimination.
Following the 2007 massacres in Guinea -- a country at high risk of violence and civil war -- OHCHR's work demonstrated the criticality of early engagement, notably in building civil society's capacity to investigate and document human rights violations. There was coherent action by national, regional and international actors; and this Council established a Commission of Inquiry. Today OHCHR's country office continues to support stronger institutions, transitional justice and reconciliation.
None of these crises erupted without warning. They built up over years -- and sometimes decades -- of human rights grievances: deficient or corrupt governance and judicial institutions; discrimination and exclusion; inequities in development; exploitation and denial of economic and social rights; and repression of civil society and public freedoms.
The Council's interest in human rights has increased markedly during my tenure. But despite repeated briefings regarding escalating violations in multiple crises -- by OHCHR and other human rights mechanisms -- there has not always been a firm and principled decision by Members to put an end to crises.
Short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of -- and long-term threats to -- international peace and security. I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this Council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
State sovereignty is often invoked to deflect UN action to prevent serious human rights violations. But as I have often said to the representatives of Governments, "You made the law; now you must observe it".
Sovereign states established the UN, and built the international human rights framework, precisely because they knew that human rights violations cause conflict and undermine sovereignty. Early UN action to address human rights protects States, by warding off the threat of devastating violence.
This Council can take a number of innovative approaches to prevent threats to international peace and security. Within Rights Up Front, the Secretary-General can be even more proactive in alerting to potential crises, including situations that are not formally on the Council's agenda. To further strengthen early warning, the Council could also ask for more regular and comprehensive human rights reporting by protection actors; for example my successor as the High Commissioner could provide an informal monthly briefing.
The work done by Commissions of Inquiry to establish clarity, and prepare accountability, should be followed by implementation by this Council of many more of their recommendations for follow-up. And I trust that in the future they too will benefit from regular, official channels of communications to this Council.
Finally, the Council could adopt a standing consensus on a menu of possible new responses to such alerts violations, such as rapid, flexible and resource-efficient human rights monitoring missions, limited in time and scope. Another innovative option could build on the new Arms Trade Treaty, which requires arms exporters and importers to confirm that weapons will not be used to commit violations.
States Parties could agree that where there are concerns about human rights in States that purchase arms, one condition of sale would be that they accept a small human rights monitoring team, with deployment funded by the Treaty's Trust Fund.
Thank you. It has been an honour to serve the United Nations.
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