15 April 2011 A group of United Nations human rights experts today denounced the rising death toll and brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights defenders in Syria, and called on authorities to immediately halt the repression and engage in a meaningful dialogue on reforms.
“Firing on peaceful crowds attending protests or funerals is by no means justified,” stressed Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, one of 10 independent experts joining the call on the Syrian Government to end the crackdown.
Since the beginning of the protests calling for democracy, in mid-March, the violence has dramatically intensified, reportedly resulting in at least 200 deaths, the experts noted in a news release. Demonstrations are taking place across the country, in Deraa, Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Duma and Banias.
“Live ammunition is being used outside the prescribed limits and in clear violation of international law. Firearms may only be used in self-defence or in the defence of others,” Mr. Heyns added.
Citing reports that people are now taking up arms to retaliate against law enforcement officials, he warned that “this can easily escalate into widespread violence.”
Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, urged the Government to respect the physical and mental integrity of protesters, ensure justice and accountability for victims, and bring those responsible for violations to justice.
Alarmed at the reported arrest of hundreds of protesters, El Hadji Malick Sow of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the immediate release of all peaceful demonstrators who have been arbitrarily detained.
The experts, who all report to the UN Human Rights Council, noted that the crackdown is continuing despite the Government’s promises of reforms and consultations to end the 48-year-old emergency rule.
There were many underlying grievances that led to recent protests, including deep-seated corruption, injustice and discrimination, the lack of consultation, participation, and accountability, said the experts.
Stressing that political reforms, accompanied by economic and social reforms, are “urgent and critical,” they urged the authorities to engage in a meaningful, inclusive and transparent dialogue to implement reforms.
The protests in Syria are part of a broader pro-democracy movement across North Africa and the Middle East that began at the start of this year and has led to the downfall of long-standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue