posted on Fri 29 Jun 2012 3:55 PM
Syria Briefing by High Commissioner for Human Rights

On 2 and 3 July, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will provide the Security Council with updates on the human rights situation in Syria, Libya, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Sudan/South Sudan. At press time it appeared that these briefings will take place in consultations on Monday morning (Syria) and afternoon (Libya and the OPT) as well as Tuesday (Sudan/South Sudan). Having the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) brief in a closed format appears to have become an acceptable practice of late. (Although in previous years most briefings by OHCHR were public, in 2011 it briefed the Council on country-specific issues in informal consultations five times.)

The first briefing on Monday morning will be on Syria. Council members will most likely be interested in hearing about site visits by the OHCHR in early June to countries neighbouring Syria’s where it documented continuing serious human rights violations in Syria. Council members may want more details on the findings from this mission including the civilian deaths and injuries reportedly arising from the use of live ammunition and lethal use of force against protestors, sniper attacks and arbitrary detention.

Pillay is also likely to update the Council on the Commission of Inquiry findings. (In a 1 June special session on Syria, the Human Rights Council [HRC] adopted a resolution tasking its Commission of Inquiry on Syria to conduct a special inquiry into May’s el-Houleh attacks and invited the Special Envoy to brief the HRC during its current session.) Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, who heads the Commission, visited Damascus between 23-25 June and in his 27 June briefing to the HRC reported that the human rights situation in Syria had deteriorated rapidly and that there was a shift towards increasingly militarised fighting. Council members may be interested in hearing more about the Commission of Inquiry’s findings on the el-Houleh attacks and specific violations by government and anti-government forces.

The upcoming briefings by the High Commissioner for Human Rights appear to have come about as a result of a 21 July request from the four European members of the Council for Pillay to brief the Council on 28 June (Thursday). Following objections to the date raised by Russia, which was keen to have it after the 30 June Action Group meeting on Syria to be held in Geneva, it seems France was willing to press for a procedural vote to have the briefing on 28 June. On 27 June, agreement appeared to have been reached for Pillay to brief on Syria on 2 July and to allow her to answer questions on Libya and OPT. (Some Council members had requested that these two situations be added to the briefing using the same format as the 12 December briefing to the Council where Pillay briefed on Syria but answered questions on the OPT.)

However, it appears that Russia was not entirely comfortable with the format suggested and, on 28 June, it raised the possibility of calling a procedural vote requesting that Pillay brief on Syria, Libya and the OPT. Again, there did not appear to be much appetite for a procedural vote among Council members. In the meantime, the UK asked for Sudan/South Sudan to be added to the list of situations covered by the briefing. In the end, no procedural vote was necessary as there was agreement on having three separate briefings on 2-3 July.

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