The following speech was given by Mother Agnes Mariam to a side event of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Friday 7 June. Her report is a response to that of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, dated 4 June 2013.
You can download a PDF copy of the 29-page UN report here.
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, GENEVA
“THE PATH TO PEACE IN SYRIA”
Intervention of Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross
President of the International Support Team for Mussalaha
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want first of all to thank Mrs. Navi Pilay, High Commissioner for Human Rights for her valuable presence in this side event.
Since our last side event she has been accompanying us with her team in Lebanon to seek truth and witnesses from Syria to avoid genocide and ethnical cleansing and to be aware of what really is going on in Syria.
I would like also to thank the Commission of Inquiry for her last report issued the 4th of June 2013. This report is more balanced, it relays on better sources. Its description is in many places sharply accurate. Its conclusions and recommendations are those of the immense majority of the Syrian people and of the immense majority of the international community: in the name of human rights and international laws it heads toward a peaceful solution through negotiation and dialogue. The Commission of Inquiry asks to stop fuelling violence by sending weapons and inflaming sectarian attitudes. It points toward the peace process established in Geneva and paves the way for Geneva II. It also suggests that foreign interference in the Syrian conflict can only complicate the situation and inflict more damages to the innocent civilian population. This is the real issue in this side event consecrated to share on the “Path to peace in Syria”.
I want to thank Commissioner Carla Del Ponte for her intrepidity in declaring the responsibility of the anti government armed groups in the usage of chemical weapons in Khan El Assal. Afterwards this statement was retrieved because of the lack of possibility to process a physical inquiry in the ground. Nevertheless this incident has made it clear for the world that this Commission can escape the pressures and can be impartial if it has access to sufficient sources.
Considering some lacuna in the report
Allow me to get back to some assertions of the report.
It seems effectively that in many places the report is showing an evident lack of first hand sources. We want to continue to collaborate with the OHCHR and with the CoI to ensure the transmission of the reality of the situation in Syria today. It is a duty towards the victims. It is the right to protect. It is the way to apply the correct accountability.
1. In the report the first renegade appears to be the government forces while sporadic deeds are attributed to the anti-government forces. It seems that the rebels and the population that is supportive to them and that is not more than the 10-15% of the global Syrian population are the portion of the Syrian population that the International Community feels that it has the right and duty to protect and thus the International Independent Commission of Inquiry in Syria transmits this feeling.
The report talks about 4.25 millions of internally displaced. Can we know why the 85% of those displaced move naturally to regions stabilized by the government if, as alleged in the report, the government forces are killing them and ruining their properties? The dynamic of the infiltration of the anti-government armed groups inside residential areas to transform them in a combat zone or in a front line, despite the presence of civilians that are often used as human shields or pushed to leave, should be better highlighted in its contradiction with the Geneva Convention’s articles and as the major incentive of the government military operations that are for this reason targeting such residential areas transformed in combat zones or military front lines. Worthy to note that the military operations of the government forces do not happen immediately after this infiltration, all the contrary there is a big delay between the rebels infiltration and the military reaction of the government forces, allowing the progressive and irreversible deterioration of the situation with the subsequent ravages on the civilian population.
In article 12 it is said that the “Government has not fulfilled its governance duties as it cannot ensure security for its citizens in areas under its rule, and it struggles to provide basic services.” I share this observation but ask myself: how will the Government fulfill its duty to ensure the security of its citizens? From tens of locations the citizens are asking the Government to react and to save them from the lawlessness of the non-government armed groups and the government is not answering as quickly as the population would like.
In the article 20 it is said: Meanwhile, the army – supported by the Popular Committees – has increasingly relied upon its long-standing strategy of denying food and medical supplies to restive localities as a tactic to prevent the armed groups’ expansion and to force displacement of the population.
What I can say is that the rebels controlled areas in the Province of Idlib and Raqqa where civilian population is still living with the non-governmental armed groups, the Government is providing electricity, fuel, gas, bread, salaries, vaccinations and medical supplies. The local Emir in Raqqa asked for a dialyser equipment. The ministry of health provided immediately two.
I know that in Al Waar suburb counting 800 000 inhabitants of opponent population displaced from Baba Amro and Khalidiyeh, the local administration closed all the accesses to the neighborhood but one and this caused a shortage in the supplying of essentials. The reason was that the non-governmental armed groups (more than 1000 fighters) had massacred 42 civilians from the next village. It was a preventive measure that was lifted when the population accepted an agreement to stop the armed opposition and adopt only political opposition.
21. In regions held by armed groups in northern and eastern governorates, Government forces resumed their brutal and often indiscriminate campaign of shelling, using a wide variety of weaponry. Besides the continuous use of aerial bombardments, they have fired strategic missiles, cluster and thermobaric bombs. This appears to be part of a broader strategy aimed at eroding civilian support for anti-Government armed groups and at damaging infrastructure. The majority of these attacks targeted towns and neighborhoods controlled or infiltrated by armed groups, rather than targeting those groups’ military bases.
About article 21: I don’t know what the report understands when it asserts that the Government forces are aiming to damage the infrastructure when everybody knows how the non-governmental armed groups are continuously perpetrating acts of destruction, vandalism and looting everything everywhere: factories, electricity plants and extensions, gas plants, pipelines, oil wells, water plans and aqueducts, hospitals, administration buildings, schools, museums, archeological sites etc, etc…
I also don’t know what could be the strategy of the Government as described in this article to avoid to target the group’s military bases and to target instead the civilian population and the infrastructure that is a State possession?
Doing this the Government will provoke the anger and more hatred from its citizens. This is not the case.
In reality after more than two years of uprising 70% of the Syrian population still does support the President and the government in Syria. If we consider the statistics done last year by the US Ambassador Robert Ford pointing at 55% of aficionados there is an evident increase of sympathy and not a decrease. Why? Because there is a revolution against the revolution. People are getting tired and they have experienced enough that the revolution has been hijacked by radicalism and also by banditry and organized or salvage criminality. I would have liked this to appear in the report. Or else we are still in approaches that do not compete with the reality.
It is true that, in many cases, the government forces shells on civilian population. I know from our village of Qara that many times the armed groups hide inside the inhabited neighborhood and they lead from there armed incursions against the government forces barricades. This induces a response that can inflict injuries on civilians.
We know certainly that the army stopped many days before launching the attack on Qusayr to verify if the civilians had went out. Tracts were thrown from aircrafts asking the civilians to leave the city. It was evident through the reportages that no civilians were in the city when it was retaken by the army.
But the non-government forces are not only shelling sporadically some civilian zones, in reality civilian neighborhood in Damascus (like Jaramana, Yarmouk or Abassin square), in Homs, Hama’s countryside, Aleppo, Idlib, Hassakeh, Deir Zor, are shelled in a permanent way on a daily basis provoking deadly injuries and material destruction.
3. The popular Committees are committing indeed manyd prohibited actions. But it is important to state that the President issued a Decree punishing with death any abductor and lifting any coverage for crimes and robbery. This Decree was targeting the popular Committees and not the anti-government gangs that are out of the government control.
Article 75: Abduction for political reason, for summary execution or for ransom is a permanent and massive habitude implemented by the rebels. It is now applied by the popular committees. President Assad has issues a decree declaring death sentence for abductors. He means the popular committees who are under his control and not the anti-government armed gangs who are not under his control.
4. Article 94: About sexual violence: the report lacks of sources about the non-governmental armed groups behavior. It is widely known that such violence is not only incidental but structural. The sexual violence of the anti-government armed groups are countless even not only with girls and women but also with men. We have supplied the Commission with some important cases and we can do more. We also know dramatic cases of collective raping (article 148 and 156).
5. Article 29: We feel reading this article that there is a kind of subtle justification of the radicalization of the anti-government armed groups. While the report describes the drifting of those groups it never attributes to them terrorist deeds while Jobhat al Nosra has been listed among the terrorist groups first by the US then by the International Community. The report strikes us when appealing to their obligations under Common Articles of the Geneva Convention it appears to address itself to them as if they were legal armed groups. Can we say to a terrorist that he has an obligation under the Geneva Convention?
There is also a need to know where come from the anti-government armed groups and who is supporting them. There is also a need for the parents of those young men to know why western countries like France, Belgium, Ireland, Great Britain, Sweden, United States, Australia, Canada are accepting that offices are opened in their cities to recruit them by the most radical islamists. How can those countries support freedom and democracy through radical Islam which is discriminating all other forms of moderate Islam?
6. Article 122. “The deliberate targeting of medical personnel and hospitals, and denial of medical access, continue to be a disturbing feature of the conflict.”
I have seen with my own eyes doctors killed by anti-government armed groups because they attended the National Hospital. Their names were already on the black list of the LCC.
The report is silent about 54 hospitals that have been totally destroyed by the anti-government armed gangs after being looted. Nothing is said about the destruction of 15 pharmaceutical factories.
7. There is a point that is missing in part: about the defense done by the non-governmental armed groups to allow students to go to government held establishments for the examinations. In Idlib, to take an example, the Mussalaha Committee could transport secretly 45% of the population to Idlib under danger, but 15000 students were prevented to present their exams. The parents were very sad, I was there, because it is the second year that their children are losing. It is worthy to note here that Idlib is a besieged city where there is a constant shortage of food and essentials due to the blockage exerted by anti-government forces (ref to articles 144-148).
8. Concerning accountability: it is easy to attribute responsibility on the Syrian government who is hierarchised. But to whom will the CoI attribute the responsibility of the deeds of the non-governmental armed groups? What about the States that are supporting them with weapons, money, training and intelligence? Nothing is said on this issue.
Our aim is PEACE. To serve PEACE Mairead Maguire put her life at risk to visit Syria with her team. For PEACE I decided to visit the regions that are outside the control of the Syrian government. What I have seen in the province of Idlib is the continuation of my visit to Homs in december 2011.
What is the path to peace? The CoI highlight the following steps that we of course approve: “While the nature of the conflict is constantly changing, there remains no military solution. So we don’t know how the European Union lifted the embargo on ammunition. They should have lifted the ban on essentials because people are dying in Syrian due to the missing of essentials. Instead they lift the ban on weapons and do not lift the ban to give food to people. And they pretend the right to protect!
159:”The conflict will end only through a comprehensive, inclusive political process. The international community must prioritize a de-escalation of the war…” It is not the case dear friends because today France brings the case in their media that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons, it is an ancient history as Mairead has said, “it is déjà vu”. We should stand against this, they are taking us for idiots. They should stop!.
“The international community must prioritise a de-escalation of the war and work within the framework of the 2012 Geneva Communiqué”.
“160. All parties are obliged to respect human rights and international humanitarian laws. Both they and their supporters share the responsibility to commit to a peaceful solution.
161. Accountability must be re-emphasized at all levels.”
I will finish here. I have many things to say. One thing to end: we are persecuted because we say those things that do not fit with the benefit and the interest of some deciders of the International Community and we ask the Human Right Council to protect us as witnesses. You see: 69 media are repeating every day the same cooking, offering the same food, like in the darkest ages of the propaganda. And when someone says something different because we see it with our own eyes, we are persecuted. We have to stop to politicize these things and to let human right activists like we are to work freely or else how are you asking freedom for Human Right Commission and you don’t give the freedom for human rights activists? That’s why I thank again the Commission of Inquiry to collaborate with us. We ask for more collaboration. I thank the High Commissioner because she collaborates with us through her inquirers. I ask for more tidings and more collaboration and we hope that finally in Syria the pattern that have been used in other places like Lebanon, like Gulf, like Afghanistan, like Irak, like Libya would find a peaceful end and we will not incur in another “right to protect” false war.
We are sure that this path for peace is first of all interior, between Syrians and Syrians. To stop the foreign interference, to stop fuelling weapons and fighters, to stop the chain of hatred and radicalization is the path. Avoid pouring oil on the fire is the path. To forgive is the path and to enter in the dynamic of reconciliation is the path. The Syrian people is an amazing people, in the middle of its tragedy it finds way of forgiveness and reconciliation because they love their country and they love their multi secular unique experience of conviviality between so many religious, cultural and ethnical diverse components. This is Orient, the eternal Orient. And Orient should become a spiritual reserve for humanity not a place of continuous struggle for narrow interests. Let us work together with the Human Rights Council to implement a sustainable permanent peace in this cradle of civilization and the matrix of monotheisms.
Thank you !
 OHCHR for Office of the High Commissionner of Human Rights. CoI for (International Independent) Commission of Inquiry (on Syria)