Statement by Ambassador Günter Sautter at the UN Security Council Arria-formula meeting on Accountability in Syria on 29 November 2021

29.11.2021 - Speech

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Whenever we address the situation in Syria, we must not forget how the Syrian conflict began almost eleven years ago: ordinary Syrians took to the streets in order to peacefully call for reform, freedom, justice and respect for their rights. But the Syrian regime responded with even more oppression, violence, torture, murder – and by waging a war against its own people.

Indiscriminate detention, forced disappearance, torture, physical and sexual violence and other human rights violations continue to take place on a daily basis in Syria. The regime in Syria has killed its own people using chemical weapons. This is why millions of Syrians have fled their country and are in fear of returning home.

Systematic and wide-scale violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights continue to occur in Syria. The Commission of Inquiry confirmed that such violations and abuses might constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes.

National reconciliation and sustainable peace in Syria will not be possible without justice and accountability for the most serious crimes and atrocities committed during the Syrian conflict.

Clearly, the penal courts in Syria will not bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. We therefore continue to urgently call on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Russia and China must stop vetoing such a referral.

Yet, in the absence of prosecution by the ICC, there are important efforts to fill the void: different organizations and entities are documenting violations and abuses of international law, the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) on Syria continues to collect and analyze evidence of international crimes.

We fully support global efforts, in particular through the mechanisms created within the OPCW, to ensure accountability for perpetrators of chemical weapons’ attacks in Syria. The international community must demonstrate that those responsible for chemical weapons’ attacks cannot act with impunity.

 Also, national courts have started prosecuting the most serious crimes committed in Syria. The conviction of a former Syrian regime official by a court in Germany in February 2021 for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in connection with torture in prisons run by the Syrian regime was only a first step towards providing justice and accountability. But it has sent a clear message: those responsible for crimes, atrocities and abuses in Syria will be held accountable.

This and other judicial developments in national jurisdictions represent a symbol of hope for the tens of thousands who have suffered at the hands of the Syrian regime.

Truth, justice and accountability are also necessary with regard to the tens of thousands arbitrarily detained, missing and disappeared persons. The Syrian regime must release all arbitrarily detained persons, allow immediate, unconditional and unhindered access to all its prisons and detention facilities, and inform the families of the fate of their loved ones.

In this context, we also welcome the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation for the creation of an independent mechanism with an international mandate to coordinate and consolidate claims regarding missing persons as well as the mandate in the Third Committee resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria for the Secretary-General to conduct a study on how to bolster efforts to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people in Syria.

For us it remains clear: in order to reach a political solution to the Syrian conflict and to achieve sustainable peace and stability in Syria, we need justice, accountability and the respect for human rights as well as the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 in all its aspects.

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