UN human rights chief names and shames countries that block human rights investigations

Chief amongst the offenders was Bashar Al-Assad of the Syrian government

Jon Stone
Tuesday 13 September 2016 18:05
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Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The UN’s highest authority on human rights has hit out at the Syrian government for refusing to let observers monitor the country’s civil war.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the 33rd sitting of the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday by naming and shaming countries that he said had refused to open themselves up to international scrutiny.

His greatest criticism was reserved for Bashar Al-Assad’s Syrian government, who had said had tried to evade independent scrutiny despite repeatedly filing allegations about other parties in the civil war.

“Syria, despite repeated requests, has granted no access to OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights) or to the Commission of Inquiry since the crisis began in 2011,” the commissioner said in his opening speech.

“This is a state led by a medical doctor and yet is believed to have gassed its own people; has attacked hospitals and bombed civilian neighbourhoods with indiscriminate explosive weapons; and maintains tens of thousands of detainees in inhuman conditions.

“Words cannot convey how profoundly I condemn this situation. The Government, which is responsible for some of the gravest violations on record in the history of this Council, has regularly sent notes verbales to my Office reporting abuses by armed groups. But it offers no possibility whatsoever for independent scrutiny.”

Bashar al-Assad pictured in January 2012 (Picture: Getty)

Other countries singled out by the Commissioner included Venezuela, which Mr Al Hussein said had denied visas for UN teams, Turkey, which he said had blocked access to the Kurdish south east, and Israel, which has “a long record of refusing to cooperate” with mandates for the UN to access the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Bahrain was criticised for “harassment and arrests of human rights defenders and political activists”, while the Philippines’s new president Rodrigo Duterte was rapped for his new war on drugs that has seen thousands of people summarily shot on sight without any judicial process.

The United States was criticised for "evasive tactics" on the pleged closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, while North Korea was accused of refusing to engage on the specifics of a visit despite ostensibly extending an invitation.

Countries that were praised for providing access to the UN include the Republic of Congo and Yemen, despite allegations of serious violations in both.

Britain, the US and their allies have reached an ambiguous relationship with Mr Assad’s government in recent months. The UK came close to bombing Mr Assad’s ground forces in 2013 – refraining only after the Government lost a parliamentary vote.

Britain is now bombing Isis, which is fighting against Mr Assad, but is not actively supporting Syrian government forces – nor bombing them. Former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond previously repeatedly stated that Mr Assad had to leave office for a peaceful solution to the conflict. However, the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, has previously called for the UK to work with the Syrian regime.

A joint investigation by The Independent and Campaign Against the Arms Trade published earlier this month found that in 2010 Britain had sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked as “not free” on the Freedom House Freedom in the World Report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list.

A full two-thirds of UK weapons over this period were sold to Middle Eastern countries.

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