Truth, justice and security for detainees and missing persons in Syria [fr]
Detainees et missing persons in Syria
Statement by Ms. Anne Gueguen, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 7 August 2019
The Syrian regime’s use of torture, arbitrary arrest and detention and enforced disappearances dates back to long before the 2011 uprising. Those abuses have always been a distinctive feature of the regime, and in a push to eliminate all forms of opposition, they have reached an unprecedented scale during the eight years of conflict, with their widespread and systematic use by security forces. The testimonies we heard today illustrate that poignantly. The victims are political opponents, peaceful activists, intellectuals, artists and ordinary Syrians — victims of merciless methods.
The settlement of the issue of detainees and missing persons is inextricably linked to the search for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, which, at its core, is a crisis of massive violations of human rights. It is therefore essential that the Security Council remain seized of the issue. In that regard, I would like to highlight three imperatives.
1/ The first imperative is truth. All information on the massive human rights violations committed in Syria by all actors must be brought to light. In that connection, France commends the invaluable contribution of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, whose impartial and independent reports reflect the reality of the Syrian tragedy. In particular, we welcome the report on detentions that was published and presented to the Security Council during an Arria Formula meeting in November. The Council must continue to hear regular briefings on this issue. That was the thrust of the joint statement issued by France, the United Kingdom and the United States at an event held during the high-level week in September in the presence of Families for Freedom and other Syrian non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
2/ The second imperative is justice. Crimes committed by the regime must not remain unpunished. The evidence of those crimes will not disappear. The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, established by the General Assembly, will see to it. It is essential that all Member States, NGOs and international organizations cooperate with the Mechanism. The evidence is intended to be presented before the appropriate national or international courts to ensure that justice is done to victims, including victims of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture. Thanks to the Caesar file, delivered to the French courts and containing photos of thousands of bodies of hungry and tortured detainees, international arrest warrants were issued by a French examining judge against three senior officials of the repressive Syrian apparatus. They have been charged with torture, forced disappearances and crimes against humanity.While that is an essential first step in the fight against impunity, I also recall the importance of ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in order to combat impunity for this crime.
I also reiterate that the death certificates issued by the Damascus regime do not exempt it from its obligation to ensure justice. Nor are they the dignified answer that the victims’ families and loved ones expect in order to properly grieve. They have the right to the truth.
3/ The third imperative is the safety of people.
The situation in Syria cannot be normalized without creating a safe environment on the ground for civilians — a precondition for any credible political settlement in Syria and what Syrians, including refugees and displaced persons, expect. We note that the regime’s systematic use of such practices is responsible for the departure of thousands of people from Syria and continues to prevent them from returning. Creating a safe and neutral environment means, first and foremost, a change in the regime’s behaviour. That will require putting an end to such practices and allowing immediate and unfettered access of neutral parties to all detention centres. Security Council resolutions have explicitly called for this since 2011.
In view of the scale of the arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances, it is clear that any progress on this issue will require the unconditional releases of all persons detained for political reasons. France calls on the allies of the Syrian regime to pressure it to do so. It is a simple confidence-building measure that the Special Envoy rightly pointed out. It is within the context of its mediation that this issue must be addressed, through discussions led by the United Nations in Geneva, in consideration of the whole problem and not only certain categories of detainees or the exchange of a limited number of prisoners.
At the heart of the Syrian tragedy is an unnamed cruelty. Giving freedom to the thousands of arbitrarily detained prisoners and recreating the conditions for a safe and dignified life in Syria for all is not only a moral obligation, it is a political necessity. As we all know, there can be no lasting and inclusive peace in Syria unless justice is rendered and a credible political solution is reached, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015).