Print
GA/12413
1 April 2022
Seventy-sixth Session, 65th & 66th Meetings (AM & PM)

Briefing General Assembly, International Mechanism Head Calls Crimes Committed in Syria ‘Barbaric’, Urges Pursuing Accountability

The Head of the mechanism established to advance justice in Syria told the General Assembly today that the response to atrocities in the country’s crisis has been inadequate, noting that the mechanism’s relevance depends on addressing those crimes and ensuring accountability.

Catherine Marchi-Uhel, Head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, stressed that the atrocities in Syria are among the most “barbaric since the end of World War Two”.

Presenting the eighth report of the Mechanism (document A/76/690), she recalled that the instrument, created by the Assembly in December 2016, is neither a court nor a tribunal.  Instead, it is mandated to particularly assist competent jurisdictions in their pursuit of justice, in particular national courts with jurisdiction for such crimes, and will assist national, regional and international courts or tribunals that may become seized of the Syrian situation in the future.

Citing grave violations of international humanitarian law, she stressed that “the ripple effect of pervasive impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity can be clearly seen today.”  Law has a deterrent effect only if those in power believe that they may have to explain their actions in front of a court of justice.  “It is hard to dispute that, notwithstanding the tireless efforts of many States and individuals, the response to the Syrian crisis has been inadequate,” she said.  However, there is still an opportunity to work towards a future for Syria based on justice and the rule of law.

She noted that the Mechanism is currently cooperating with 13 different jurisdictions and has received more than 180 requests for assistance relating to over 150 distinct investigations.  A German court in Koblenz made headlines when it established that crimes against humanity were committed as part of a systematic attack against the civilian population by Syrian forces between April 2011 and September 2012 — with evidence contributed by the Mechanism.  The relevance of the Assembly, and the legitimacy of the international system, will not only be judged by the last 11 years of atrocities in Syria, but by whether existing efforts can be built upon to pursue comprehensive accountability.  “We must close this chapter and lay the foundation for a future Syria based on the rule of law,” she said.

In the ensuing debate, many delegates affirmed support for the Mechanism as a necessary instrument and potential game-changer in the grinding Syrian conflict.

Turkey’s representative said that for more than a decade, Syria’s people have experienced unimaginable loss under the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more gassed, tortured, disappeared, denied food and sexually abused.  Millions have been displaced internally or sought refuge in other States, while chemical weapons have been used as part of the regime’s war on its own people.  He urged for the Mechanism to receive adequate funding from the United Nations regular budget.  With the Syrian Interim Government and opposition coalition — the legitimate representatives — in close cooperation with the Mechanism, he said:  “We cannot change the past, but we can take action today” to uphold the rights and dignity of the country’s people.

The representative of the United States stressed that the Russian Federation has fuelled and perpetuated the war in Syria through reckless and barbaric attacks impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure — and is now using similar tactics in its unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine.  “Based on information currently available, we assess that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine”, he said, and used similar tactics in Grozny and in Aleppo.  Against this backdrop, it is predictable that the Russian Federation continues to challenge the validity of the Mechanism and its important work.  Moscow cannot hide the truth, so it seeks instead to distort it.  “It will not succeed because of the bravery of the Syrian people,” he stated.

The delegate of the Netherlands recalled the historic conviction in Germany in January of a senior official of the Government of President Al-Assad for crimes against humanity.  That verdict serves as a starting point for future cases.  Stressing that the road to justice begins with the truth, she said truth can only be found through independent fact-finding and evidence gathering, often by brave people on the ground who are prepared to risk everything, like Ayham Ghazoul — who was tortured to death — and his colleagues at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, who have faced arbitrary detention and torture and still continue to investigate and preserve evidence of human rights violations.

A number of representatives, however, forcefully opposed the very existence of the Mechanism, stating it marks a major overreach beyond appropriate United Nations bodies and an unacceptable precedent.

Syria’s delegate stressed that his delegation’s participation in today’s debate should not be construed as recognition of the Mechanism, its mandate or credibility.  He condemned the grave falsities under which it was established, noting that it is neither legal nor legitimate and contravenes Articles 10, 11, 17 and 22 of the Charter of the United Nations — a clear politicization and evidence of blackmail efforts by certain countries.  Syria did not request any technical or legal assistance from the United Nations, he said, further noting the Assembly breached the mandate of the Security Council by establishing a legal entity in clear violation the Charter.  All information and evidence documented by the Mechanism are false, he stressed — some of which was even gathered from open sources or terrorist organizations, including the so-called “White Helmets”.  Calling for accountability for those with illegal military forces in Syria, who support terrorist militias or exercise economic terrorism through unilateral coercive measures, he demanded:  “Don’t these actions rise to the level of crimes against humanity?”

In a similar vein, Iran’s delegate said that for decades, the Middle East has been “one of the most active hotspots for geopolitical games”, its people suffering from sanctions, war, foreign occupation and terrorism under geopolitical rivalries and expansionist policies.  Expressing regret over the politicization of justice, the weaponization of human rights and the misuse of United Nations bodies, he noted the human dignity and rights of people in the Middle East and Africa are not considered as important as those experiencing recent events in Eastern Europe.  The work and outcome of the Mechanism have unfortunately been conducted in confidentiality, which seriously undermines United Nations transparency and accountability.

Cuba’s representative echoed those sentiments, noting the Mechanism has no precedent in the history of the United Nations and deliberately undermines the primary responsibility held by Syria’s judicial system to investigate and try crimes committed on that country’s territory.  That violation of the norms and principles of international law sets a dangerous precedent.  The Mechanism has no legal foundation, and its creation strays outside the authorization bestowed on the Assembly by Articles 10, 12 and 22 of the Charter of the United Nations.  Calling it a subsidiary body of the Assembly means that it and its personnel enjoy inappropriate legal characteristics and immunities.  He stressed that mechanisms of this type must not be financed by Member States’ assessed contributions, particularly if they do not enjoy the consent of the country concerned.

The representative of Ukraine connected the Syrian crisis with the Russian Federation’s current aggression against his country, calling it a repeat out of Moscow’s playbook.  He noted Ukraine will continue to support the Mechanism and supports a sustainable political solution of the conflict in Syria and recalls that the political transition should be implemented in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the 2012 Geneva communiqué.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, however, said the Mechanism’s creation is a gross violation of the norms and principles of international law with the General Assembly acting ultra vires, making its conclusions and alleged evidence unusable in national or international criminal proceedings.  The Mechanism was created for the West’s geopolitical ambitions but “functions using our money”, he stated, and does not disclose sources of evidence.

Also speaking were the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, as well as the representatives of Finland (speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries), Croatia, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Australia, Qatar, Liechtenstein, Czech Republic, Italy, Malta, Switzerland, Estonia, Luxembourg, New Zealand, France, Albania, Austria, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Belgium, Slovakia, China, Venezuela, Mexico, Ireland, Georgia and United Kingdom.

The representative of the European Union also spoke.

The representatives of Syria, Iran, Russian Federation and Ukraine spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

In other business, the Assembly took up the draft resolution “Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries” (document A/76/L.47).

The representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, introducing that text, stressed that sustainable, inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will require immediate, concerted action and a new generation of revived global partnership.  The Doha Programme of Action is a step in that direction, and its full implementation will help least-developed countries address the ongoing pandemic and its negative socioeconomic impacts, return to the path of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, tackle climate change and progress towards sustainable, irreversible graduation.

The Assembly then adopted the resolution without a vote.

The representatives of Malawi (speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries), China and the Russian Federation spoke in explanation of position after adoption.

Introduction of Report

CATHERINE MARCHI-UHEL, Assistant Secretary-General, presented the eighth report of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (document A/76/690).  Recalling that the Mechanism was created by the Assembly in December 2016, she said it is neither a court nor a tribunal.  Instead, it is mandated to assist competent jurisdictions in their pursuit of justice.  In particular, it assists national courts that exercise jurisdiction for such crimes, and will assist national, regional and international courts or tribunals that may become seized of the Syrian situation in the future. 

“The atrocities in Syria are among the most devastating and barbaric since the end of World War Two,” she said, citing grave violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations committed by a range of actors.  Such actions undermine the United Nations Charter of the United Nations and threaten the rules-based international order.  After 11 years, violence continues and has become entrenched.  “The ripple effect of pervasive impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity can be clearly seen today,” she said, stressing that law has a deterrent effect only if those in power believe that they may have to explain their actions in front of a court of justice — whether at the national, regional or international level.

For critics, it has become increasingly easy to argue that the United Nations is no longer fit for purpose to address atrocities, she said.  The problems being faced are not about legal challenges, but about the inability of the international community to speak in one voice to address atrocities.  Historically, comprehensive justice or accountability has rarely been achieved while a conflict is ongoing, especially when big powers disagree.  The big test for the Assembly is two-fold:  First, how effectively it has dealt with the ongoing situation in Syria, and second, how it will ensure that those most responsible for that catastrophe answer for their actions.  “It is hard to dispute that, notwithstanding the tireless efforts of many States and individuals, the response to the Syrian crisis has been inadequate,” she said.  However, there is still an opportunity to work towards a future for Syria based on justice and the rule of law.

Noting that justice opportunities have increased since the creation of the Mechanism in 2016, she pointed out that it is currently cooperating with 13 different jurisdictions and has received more than 180 requests for assistance relating to over 150 distinct investigations, of which it has already supported nearly 100.  A German court in Koblenz made headlines worldwide when it established, in two separate verdicts, that crimes against humanity were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population by Syrian security forces and secret services between April 2011 and September 2012.  The Mechanism was able to contribute evidence in support of these cases.  Similarly, a court in Frankfurt established that crimes against the Yazidis amounted to genocide, and a Swedish court recently found a woman guilty of a war crime against her own child as part of the non-international armed conflict.  Such legal findings establish facts beyond doubt that cannot easily be disputed or interpreted differently for political ends.

She went on to note that the Mechanism is continuously refining its work and trying to identify additional means of facilitating justice.  While supporting other jurisdictions, it also contributes to other elements of the justice spectrum, such as clarifying the fate and whereabouts of missing persons in the Syrian context.  Outlining some of its methodologies, she said future access to dentition facilities and mass graves will allow experts to truly assist in that regard.  The relevance of the Assembly, and the legitimacy of the international system, will not only be judged by the last 11 years of atrocities in Syria, but by whether and how existing efforts can be built upon to pursue comprehensive accountability.  “We must close this chapter and lay the foundation for a future Syria based on the rule of law,” she said.

Statements

MARIO ADOLFO BÚCARO FLORES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said the Mechanism’s latest report demonstrates that the international community can collectively protect those who suffer under war.  Guatemala is committed to the principle of sovereignty, which contributes to the maintenance of peace and security and supports international institutions which are mutually beneficial.  He noted that Guatemalan national legislation gives pride of place to the Mechanism which, in the five years since its inception, has taken great strides forward in revealing the truth and ushering in judicial proceedings for the most serious crimes committed in Syria.  Appealing for full respect for all obligations under international law, he said the international community can feel pride in working to end violence and aggression.  Stressing the critical importance of implementing the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction — known as the Chemical Weapons Convention — he said any use of that type of weapon is a flagrant violation of international law and those responsible cannot go unpunished.  He also called for peace, reconciliation and the use of legal means to peacefully resolve disputes under the framework of international law.

SILVIO GONZATO, speaking on behalf of the European Union in its capacity as observer, welcomed the Mechanism’s progress over the reporting period, along with its continued efforts to engage and coordinate with all stakeholders and its willingness to assist in national investigations.  Noting that legal action has been brought — and final judgements obtained — against perpetrators in several European Union countries, he stressed that accountability and justice for victims is essential for a stable, peaceful Syria that is based on a credible, inclusive and viable political solution pursuant to Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  He also reiterated the bloc’s call for the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Further, he underscored that attacks on civilians and civilian objects must cease and that the Syrian regime must comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.  Perpetrators of core international crimes committed in Syria must be held accountable, and the United Nations must dedicate the energy and resources required to pursue and ensure the same.  “This is our common responsibility”, he stressed.  There cannot be sustainable peace without justice — in Syria or elsewhere — and he recalled that, in March 2011, Syrians taking to the streets to demand democracy and the respect of their human rights and fundamental freedoms were met with merciless repression.  Spotlighting a conference on supporting Syria and the region that the European Union will host on 10 May, he said the bloc will continue its efforts “to ensure that neither Syria nor the Syrian people are forgotten”.

MIIA RAINNE (Finland), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, stressed that all parties have committed countless atrocities during the protracted conflict, and the Syrian regime bears the main responsibility for most of the violations of international law, as documented by the Mechanism.  “There can be no impunity,” she said, adding that bringing all perpetrators to justice is necessary not only to ensure justice for victims, but also to prevent and deter future violations.  Acknowledging the progress made by the Mechanism — including its use of new technologies and the increased number of States cooperating with and requesting assistance from it — she also commended ongoing efforts in the courts of a number of countries to prosecute, on the basis of universal jurisdiction, crimes committed in Syria.  She reiterated the call to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, while calling on all States to cooperate with the Mechanism and highlighting the importance of guaranteeing funding from the United Nations programme budget.  Assessed contributions may be supplemented, but never subsidized, by voluntary funding, she added.

JULIAN SIMCOCK (United States) recalled that the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, recently delivered two verdicts which established that crimes against humanity had been committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population by the Syrian State and its security forces.  Meanwhile, the Mechanism has established strategies on gender, children and youth and continues to deepen its cooperation with Syrian civil society groups.  Stressing that the Russian Federation has fuelled and perpetuated the war in Syria through reckless and barbaric attacks impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure, he said it is now using some of the same tactics in its unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine.  Indeed, he said, “based on information currently available, we assess that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine”.  Those forces used similar tactics in Grozny and in Aleppo during the intense bombardment of those cities, he said.  Against this backdrop, it is predictable that the Russian Federation continues to challenge the validity of the Mechanism and its important work, he said, emphasizing that Moscow cannot hide the truth, so it seeks instead to distort it.  “It will not succeed,” he said, “because of the bravery of the Syrian people”.

MOHAMMAD GHORBANPOUR NAJAFABADI (Iran) said that for decades, the Middle East has been “one of the most active hotspots for geopolitical games”.  The peoples of the region have suffered from exploitation, sanctions, war, foreign occupation and terrorism — victims of geopolitical rivalries, expansionist policies and imperialism.  They have been subjected to theories of international relations developed by outside players, resulting in the protracted occupation of Palestine, deteriorating humanitarian situations in Yemen and Afghanistan and foreign terrorist projects in Iraq and Syria.  He voiced regret over the politicization of justice, the weaponization of human rights and the misuse of United Nations bodies for narrow political agendas, expressing sorrow that the life, human dignity and rights of the people, children, women and girls in the Middle East and Africa are not considered as important as those experiencing recent events in Eastern Europe.  Unfortunately, he noted, the work and outcome of the Mechanism have been conducted in the context of confidentiality, which seriously undermines the transparency and accountability that is a feature of United Nations bodies.

MLADEN BRUČIĆ-MATIC (Croatia) said the Mechanism’s work is crucial in supporting accountability efforts at the national, regional and international level, while expressing strong support for its funding from the United Nations regular budget.  Indeed, predictable, sustainable and thus impartial funding is essential for the implementation of its mandate, he said, adding that the situation in Syria should also be referred to the International Criminal Court.  As today’s debate continues, the world is witnessing cases of atrocity crimes in Ukraine.  The international community should support all efforts to establish accountability for crimes committed in Ukraine, he said, noting that accountability is important for providing justice to the victims as well as for their prevention in the future — in Ukraine and Syria, as well as elsewhere in the world.

YOKA BRANDT (Netherlands) recalled that an historic event took place in January, namely the conviction by the Koblenz court in Germany of a senior official of the Government of President Al-Assad for crimes against humanity.  The verdict serves as a starting point for future cases.  Stressing that the road to justice begins with the truth, she said truth can only be found through independent fact-finding and evidence gathering, often by brave people on the ground who are prepared to risk everything.  People like Dr. Ayham Ghazoul — who was tortured to death — and his colleagues at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, who have faced arbitrary detention and torture and still continue to investigate and preserve evidence of human rights violations.  The road that such essential evidence takes, from its collection to its presentation at trial, is long, if it even gets there at all, she said, adding that the Mechanism paves the road to justice for the Syrian people.

ELIE ALTARSHA (Syria) stressed that his delegation’s participation in today’s debate should not be construed as recognition of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, its mandate or credibility in any way.  “This is not a welcome statement of the report,” he said, and does not reflect any willingness to discuss it.  In contrast, he condemned the Mechanism and the grave falsities under which it was established, noting that it is neither legal nor legitimate and contravenes Articles 10, 11, 17 and 22 of the Charter of the United Nations.  Describing its establishment as a clear politicization and evidence of blackmail efforts by certain countries, he said Syria did not request any technical or legal assistance from the United Nations and is completely capable of achieving justice and accountability without outside interference.

Noting that the Assembly breached the mandate of the Security Council by establishing a legal entity in clear violation the Charter, he said any decisions made by the Secretariat in appointing a Chair or Vice-Chair of the Mechanism are faulty.  Nor should the United Nations provide pledges or allocations to support the Mechanism, he said, adding that all information and evidence documented by it are false.  Some are even gathered from open sources or terrorist organizations, including the so-called “White Helmets”.  Syria has provided information to many entities and bodies proving it has not violated provisions of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and holds the greatest respect for confidentiality.  Double-standards have permeated the United Nations, he said, and all calls for an investigation, if valid, would have looked into those who have supported, financed and armed terrorists coming to Syria from all over the world.  Meanwhile, those same parties have plundered oil and stolen artifacts from his country, which are sold in black markets all over the world.  Calling for accountability for those with illegal military forces in Syria or who support terrorist militias or exercise economic terrorism through illegal, unilateral coercive measures, he demanded:  “Don’t these actions rise to the level of crimes against humanity?”

ROBERT KEITH RAE (Canada) said that — contrary to some of today’s rhetoric — the Mechanism plays a vital role in documenting and exposing the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in Syria by the regime, its supporters and other parties to the conflict.  Recalling his statement in the Assembly one year ago, he noted that Canada has welcomed 73,000 Syrian refugees since 2015 and their experiences have been “woven into the very fabric of my country”.  Their stories have become part of the Canadian story, “and their pursuit of justice will be ours as well”.  Responding to statements made earlier by the representatives of Iran and Syria alleging that something is wrong with an investigation that is confidential or refuses to disclose witness information to outsiders, he said:  “I cannot imagine a criminal justice system that would conduct itself in any other way.”  While resentment about the Mechanism’s creation is understandable, there are steps available to ensure that impunity does not become a way of life.  In that vein, he said, if domestic efforts to hold perpetrators accountable existed, no mechanism would be necessary in this or in many other situations.

MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica) said the notable increase in requests for assistance filed by various jurisdictions and the work to compile evidence make it clear that the Mechanism functions as “an ally of justice”.  She noted her appreciation of the fact that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the United Nations liquidity crisis, the Mechanism has worked tirelessly to make progress on all fronts of its mandate and has strategically allocated its scant resources.  Its victim-rights-based approach confirms its commitment to obtain inclusive justice, taking into account the priorities and perspectives of women and men, girls and boys.  Welcoming the Mechanism’s commitment to inclusive justice as a central focus in its work, she said women and girls are at greater risk of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and early marriage, and stressed that a gender perspective is essential to ensure justice for the victims of grave human rights violations. 

THOMAS PETER ZAHNEISEN (Germany), associating himself with the European Union, commended Assistant Secretary-General Marchi-Uhel for her impartiality and emphatically supported the report’s conclusions.  It is critical to document crimes committed, he said, but also to create legal avenues to prosecute them.  Citing “the lesson from our own tormented history”, he stressed that the magnitude of crimes committed by the Syrian regime cannot go unaddressed.  Germany has found universal jurisdiction to be a useful tool to prosecute the most serious crimes, he said, noting that without the Mechanism and its support, the federal prosecutor’s office in Germany would not have been successful in concluding two recent cases there. 

MITCHELL FIFIELD (Australia) expressed unwavering support for the Mechanism, stressing that there is no prospect for credible, lasting peace without justice.   Accountability for serious international crimes must be a global priority, and any suggestion that international scrutiny of those most heinous violations of international law is inconsistent with principles of sovereignty and non-interference wilfully undermines the very purpose and spirit of the Charter of the United Nations.  Welcoming the report’s updates on the progress of national jurisdictions in investigating and prosecuting crimes committed in Syria, he described that progress as a strong indication of the Mechanism’s value.

SHARIFA YOUSEF A. S. ALNESF (Qatar), stressing the importance of ensuring accountability to prevent the commission and repetition of crimes against humanity, said that the same is necessary to end the Syrian crisis that has “lasted far too long”.  The Mechanism’s mandate lies at the heart of the moral and legal position the international community must take regarding the most dangerous crimes and the rights of victims.  Qatar supported the Mechanism’s creation and operationalization and will continue to do so.  Further, she called for the provision of humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and reiterated the need for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.  Qatar will support any effort to ensure a political transition and full implementation of resolution 2254 (2015) so that the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people can be met.  She also underscored that the Mechanism must enjoy stable, predictable funding from the Organization’s regular budget.

MYRIAM OEHRI (Liechtenstein) commended the important work undertaken by the Mechanism so far, which has aided 91 distinct investigations conducted at the national level, some of which concerned cases in which a suspect was in detention or led to trial proceedings.  However, the Mechanism is only a partial answer to the accountability challenge in Syria.  It is not a court, she noted, stressing that important accountability gaps must be filled.  Commending criminal proceedings undertaken by several States in their national courts on the basis of the principle of universal jurisdiction, she reiterated calls on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  “Discussions on accountability must be part and parcel of our overall conversation on Syria,” she said, noting that Syrian civil society in particular has made it clear time and again that there can be no stable and peaceful future for the country without accountability for past atrocities. 

JAKUB KULHÁNEK (Czech Republic) said the Mechanism — created by the General Assembly almost six years ago — serves as an example of the exercise of powers vested in the Assembly by the Charter of the United Nations and significantly contributes to upholding the rule of law.  Noting the continued lack of will in the Security Council to address situations where crimes under international law are taking place, he expressed regret that the situation in Syria has not been referred to the International Criminal Court, due to use of the veto power.  Since then, the dynamics have unfortunately not changed.  The report presented today clearly shows that the Mechanism is working hard and without political interference to provide cooperation to relevant jurisdictions.  The Czech Republic has strongly advocated for funding for the Mechanism from the United Nations regular budget and will also provide a voluntary contribution again in 2022, he said.

MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said the only way to achieve peace in Syria is to chart a path to a peaceful solution to the conflict.  To ensure lasting peace, full accountability must be ensured, particularly for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he said, describing that as not only a moral imperative, but also a future deterrent.  Meanwhile, justice for victims is an essential condition for sustainable peace in Syria and the Mechanism is key for the collection and sharing of evidence of grave violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law.  Italy believes that domestic trials should be complemented by a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, he said, voicing concern over the large number of extrajudicial killings and reports of torture in detention centres.  Italy supports funding the Mechanism through the regular United Nations budget, as it needs to count on regular financial support to make progress in its work, he added.

DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta) said the collection and preservation of information and evidence of crimes committed in Syria is crucial and expressed continued support for the Mechanism in those efforts.  Furthermore, the continued engagement of the Mechanism with States, international organizations, United Nations entities, non-governmental organizations and individuals is welcome, as is its cooperation with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and OPCW.  Stressing that war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot and must not go unpunished, he said Malta will continue to call upon the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland) said the judicial proceedings opened in several States on alleged crimes committed in Syria demonstrate the relevance of the Mechanism’s work and the importance of the principle of universal jurisdiction, as evidenced by several recent judgments.  In Switzerland, amended legislation on international mutual legal assistance came into force in June 2021, allowing the country to step up cooperation with the Mechanism and other international criminal justice mechanisms.  She welcomed the Mechanism’s inclusion in the United Nations regular budget, as it must be funded sustainably, stressing that the organ’s mandate opens up the possibility to go beyond accountability.  It also contributes to the search for missing persons, which reinforces a victim-centred approach to justice.  Indeed, the Mechanism is part of a broader set of measures aimed at strengthening efforts to deal with the past, she said.

KRISTEL LÕUK (Estonia), associating herself with the European Union, stressed that there can be no long-term peace in Syria without justice.  Deploring the Security Council’s continued failure to do anything impactful in that regard, she said investigative mechanisms — including the one in Syria — play a central role in collecting evidence of crimes committed.  Welcoming efforts by the Mechanism to ensure victim- and survivor-centred inclusive justice by paying special attention to sexual and gender-based crimes and crimes against children, she looked forward to the publication of its gender strategy.  She voiced further appreciation for the Mechanism’s work to increase the transfer of information on missing persons, as well as its continued engagement with Syrian civil society to better understand and reflect the needs of local communities.  She went on to echo calls for continued support to the Mechanism, including its financing from the United Nations regular budget. 

ÖNCÜ KEÇELI (Turkey) said that for more than decade, the Syrian people have paid a high price in their unrelenting quest for freedom and dignity, experiencing unimaginable loss under the regime of President Al-Assad.  Hundreds of thousands have been killed and many more gassed, tortured, disappeared, denied food and sexually abused.  Millions have been displaced internally or sought refuge in other States, while chemical weapons have been used as part of the regime’s war on its own people.  The international community bears a moral obligation to hold Syria accountable for its grave crimes.  While the central repository of the Mechanism is being enhanced, he stressed that its commendable achievements must have adequate resources from the United Nations regular budget.  Meanwhile, the Syrian Interim Government and opposition coalition are in close cooperation with the Mechanism, encouraging it to continue dialogue with the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, who deserve justice.  “We cannot change the past, but we can take action today” to uphold the rights and dignity of the Syrian people, he said.

OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg), associating himself with the European Union, pointed out that his country has supported the Mechanism since its creation in 2016 and that current events — particularly, the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine — demonstrate the importance of the fight against impunity in preventing conflict and crime.  In that vein, one cannot help but consider the link between impunity for crimes committed in Syria and the latest Russian aggression.  Noting that the Mechanism continues to demonstrate its effectiveness as a justice actor, he welcomed the report’s recommendations to strengthen its cooperation with United Nations entities, States and civil society, whose role remains crucial.  He also supported the Mechanism’s rights-based approach — focusing on victims and survivors — and said its evidence-collection function is critical “so that when the time comes, justice can be done”.

SHANNON RANGI TAU (New Zealand) said her country supports the Mechanism and its valuable work.  It is important for the international community to work collectively to combat the horrific crimes committed in Syria, she said, adding that the rule of law and accountability are crucial.  The latest report shows that progress has been made towards the fulfilment of the Mechanism’s mandate, and the opening of two new case files and the growing number of calls for assistance highlight the Mechanism’s important work to ensure individual criminal accountability.  He also welcomed its commitment to a holistic and inclusive approach to justice, including by incorporating gender and youth strategies into its work, describing the scale and importance of the work being undertaken as immense.

DIARRA DIME LABILLE (France), associating herself with the European Union, said the perpetrators of crimes committed in Syria must not go unpunished despite the difficult context.  Expressing support for the pre-court Mechanism in collecting and safeguarding evidence, she welcomed the systematic incorporation of gender-based issues into its work and hailed the courage of all Syrian civil society members.  She cited 40 procedures under way in French courts to punish crimes committed in Syria, adding that her Government is also working closely with OPCW.  There can be no lasting peace in Syria nor a return of displaced persons without a political solution, she stressed, adding that no normalization of relations with Syria nor a lifting of sanctions will be possible until such a solution has been reached under Council resolution 2254 (2015).

ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) said that, over the last 11 years, “the Assad regime has disfigured Syria”, adding that:  “Today, Syria is a hell on earth.”  Moreover, the international community has allowed this to happen by failing to find unity and resolve in the United Nations.  Accountability is necessary not only to bring justice to victims and survivors, but also to help prevent the repetition of similar atrocities in Syria and elsewhere.  To that end, she voiced support for the Mechanism’s work and its inclusive, rights-based and survivor-oriented approach that places it in a strong position to bring justice to those who need it most.  She also welcomed its recent progress in integrating a child- and youth-sensitive approach into its investigative and analytical work, as well as its efforts to clarify the fate of missing persons.  Urging the international community to pressure the regime of President Al-Assad to cooperate with the Mechanism, she spotlighted the current conflict in Ukraine and underscored that “we must make impunity history”.

ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria), associating himself with the European Union, noted that the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine is the most recent example of the need for accountability.  “There is abundant evidence of crimes committed in Syria,” he said, stressing that it is essential for all relevant documentation to be handed over to the Mechanism.  Noting that Austria provided financial support to the Mechanism in 2017 and 2019, he welcomed the inclusion of the Mechanism’s funding in the United Nations regular budget for 2020/2021.  He also noted that his country adopted legislation in 2020 to allow cooperation with and legal assistance to the Mechanism, while calling on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  “Even with the war in Ukraine now in the spotlight of international attention, serious violations and abuses of human rights still occur in Syria,” he said, reiterating the need to end the war and for an inclusive political process that ensures justice for all victims.

OSUGA TAKESHI (Japan) said a situation where the perpetrators of acts described by the briefer are overlooked and left unaccountable will have ripple effects elsewhere in the world and seriously undermine the stability and prosperity of the international community.  He welcomed the progress made by the Mechanism during the past year in implementing its mandate of assisting in the investigations and prosecutions of the most serious crimes committed in Syria.  The Mechanism should continue to collaborate closely with the United Nations and other international organizations, Member States and civil society in the pursuit of inclusive justice through its victim- and survivor-centred approach, he added.

KIM SONG (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said the establishment and activities of the Mechanism constitute a clear violation of the purpose and principle of the Charter of the United Nations, as well as the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States.  “It is well-known that legal technical assistance by the United Nations to any Member State should be provided in accordance with the request by the concerned State,” he said, noting that the resolution establishing the Mechanism was adopted without prior consultation or Syria’s agreement.  Furthermore, the Assembly lacks the mandate to establish such a body, as such a power was absolutely vested in the Security Council.  What cannot be overlooked today is that the Mechanism’s claims of independence and impartiality conflict with its actual interference in Syria’s internal affairs, as well as its reliance on fabricated information and false testimony.  “The establishment of the Mechanism is nothing but a typical example of politicization, double standards and selectivity of the human rights issue,” he stressed, rejecting all efforts to fund such work from the United Nations regular budget.

BOŠTJAN MALOVRH (Slovenia), associating himself with the European Union, called on all relevant stakeholders to continue engaging with the Mechanism in order to achieve justice in Syria.  However, the Mechanism remains only a partial answer to the accountability challenge of the conflict, he said, welcoming criminal proceedings undertaken by several States to close the impunity gaps.  He went on to note that national courts could make use of a new multilateral treaty on mutual legal assistance and extradition for domestic prosecution of the most serious international crimes and repeated the call to the Security Council to take effective action and to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

KARL LAGATIE (Belgium), associating himself with the European Union, said parties to the Syrian conflict have on multiple occasions violated international law and international human rights law, and that no lasting peace is possible without justice for victims — the very underpinning of the Mechanism.  Reiterating calls for the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, he encouraged those States that have not done so to implement the cooperation framework with the Mechanism.  Citing Belgium’s initial contribution of $1.6 million to the Mechanism, he voiced support for its adequate funding from the United Nations regular budget.  He also welcomed cooperation between Syrian civil society members and the Mechanism, stressing that the latter must have complete access to the work of the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism.

MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia) noted that the Mechanism is a unique and pioneering instrument in international efforts to ensure accountability, which assists and facilitates criminal proceedings carried out by national authorities and regional or international courts through evidence collection, analysis and preservation.  In order to benefit from the Mechanism’s full potential, States must assist it in carrying out its mandate and ensure that national investigative and prosecutorial authorities can smoothly cooperate with it.  Calling for stable and sustainable financing for the Mechanism, he also noted that Slovakia has supported its inclusion in the United Nations regular budget in previous years and will continue to support the provision of the required funds therefrom. 

PEDRO LUIS PEDROSO CUESTA (Cuba), noting that the Mechanism has no precedent in the history of the United Nations, said it deliberately undermines the primary responsibility held by Syria’s judicial system to investigate and try crimes committed on that country’s territory.  This is a violation of the norms and principles of international law and, moreover, sets a dangerous precedent regarding the conduct and practice of the Organization.  He added that the Mechanism has no legal foundation and its creation strays outside the authorization bestowed on the Assembly by Articles 10, 12 and 22 of the Charter of the United Nations.  Meanwhile, calling the Mechanism a subsidiary body of the Assembly means that it and its personnel enjoy legal characteristics and immunities that they should not.  He also stressed that mechanisms of this type must not be financed by Member States’ assessed contributions, particularly if they do not enjoy the consent of the State concerned.

XING JISHENG (China) said that the Syrian crisis has gone on for 11 years.  The Syrian people have suffered harm from external invasion and unilateral coercive measures.  There must be a Syrian owned and led process and the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations should be observed.  The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country should be respected.  The Government of Syria has been carrying out national reconstruction in many areas and China believes that these efforts will help Damascus restore order at an early date.  He urged all countries concerned to lift the illegal unilateral coercive measures against Syria.  All parties in Syria should enhance mutual trust, he said, noting that such measures will not only be detrimental to the solution of the issue but will also prolong the suffering.  The establishment of the Mechanism is controversial and full consultation with Syria was not carried out.  China does not support the inclusion of the Mechanism in the regular budget of the United Nations, he said.

JHON GUERRA SANSONETTI (Venezuela) recalled that his delegation voted against General Assembly resolution A/71/248, which led to the irregular and controversial establishment of the Mechanism, in flagrant violation of the principles of the Charter.  In establishing it, the Assembly was forced by a circumstantial majority to usurp the remit of the Security Council, the organ that currently has authority over everything to do with Syria.  The Mechanism is carrying out the work of judicial bodies, he stated, while sovereign States have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes on their own territory.  Syria rejected the Mechanism, and hypothetical evidence has no validity or legal foundation to be used against it, as its own courts are fully capable.  Stating that the Mechanism is advancing the agenda of specific Governments seeking to pressure Syria, he rejected attempts to legitimize and finance it with the regular budget of the United Nations and appealed to Member States to cease instrumentalizing the United Nations to attack sovereign States.

JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico), noting that some national jurisdictions have open criminal proceedings for crimes committed in Syria, expressed hope that such jurisdictions will avail themselves of the Mechanism’s repository of evidence as Germany, France and Sweden have done.  The Mechanism’s efforts to identify and document potential avenues of investigation — such as attacks using chemical weapons or on medical facilities — are essential to the fight against impunity.  However, the situation in Syria should have been referred to the International Criminal Court a long time ago, and he expressed regret that the use of the veto blocked this path once again.  He reiterated that permanent members of the Security Council must refrain from using the veto when the 15-member organ is faced with situations involving the perpetration of mass atrocities.  It is unacceptable that the veto is abused to impede accountability, including by preventing situations from being referred to the Court, he added.

VOLODYMYR LESCHENKO (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, said that it is crucial that victims and survivors of international crimes committed in Syria remain at the heart of the Mechanism’s work.  The current aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine is a repeat of Moscow’s playbook against Syria, he said.  Ukraine will continue to support the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, as well as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry and the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team.  Ukraine supports a sustainable political solution of the conflict in Syria and recalls that the political transition should be implemented in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the 2012 Geneva communiqué.

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), associating himself with the European Union, expressed concern that after more than a decade, the Syrian people continue to suffer, with millions internally displaced and having sought refuge, along with ongoing killings, incommunicado detention, disappearance, torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment, and sexual violence.  With people silenced, potentially detained and living in poverty, he called on the regime to cease attacks against civilians and civilian facilities, allow safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian assistance to all in need, and cooperate fully with the Mechanism and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.  He further called for justice for the crimes that the Russian Federation is committing with its unprovoked, unjustified and premeditated aggression against Ukraine, through all available international legal mechanisms.

TIMOTHY JAMES SYLVESTER (United Kingdom) said in Syria, as in Ukraine, there can be no impunity for those who violate international humanitarian and human rights law.  The Russian Federation’s actions in Ukraine will be familiar to millions of Syrians who have suffered at the hands of the regime of President Al-Assad, with Moscow’s backing.  He noted the landmark verdict in Koblenz, Germany — which benefited from the Mechanism’s support — determined that crimes against humanity were committed in Syria as part of a systematic attack against the civilian population by the regime between April 2011 and September 2012 — a strong signal of the international community’s commitment to hold perpetrators to account.  He further demanded that all parties immediately cease involuntary or enforced disappearance or kidnappings, in accordance with Council resolution 2474 (2019).  He voiced support for the Mechanism’s conclusion that it has established itself as a competent and trusted partner in justice efforts concerning the crimes within its mandate.

GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) pointed out that, as Syria did not consent to the establishment of the Mechanism nor was there a Security Council resolution on this issue under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, the Mechanism’s creation is a gross violation of the norms and principles of international law.  The General Assembly acted ultra vires, and therefore the Mechanism’s conclusions and alleged evidence cannot be used in either national or international criminal proceedings.  Stating that Western countries “rammed through” the decision to fund the Mechanism through the regular budget — breaking the Fifth Committee’s tradition of consensus — he said that the Mechanism was created for the West’s geopolitical ambitions but “functions using our money”.  Further, the Mechanism does not disclose sources of evidence, its means of collecting and processing such evidence or information regarding cooperating non-governmental organizations.  Instead, it takes Western propaganda, digests it, and then re-serves it as legally significant evidence under the apparent belief that its connection to the United Nations legitimizes this — which is doubtful, he said.

Right of Reply

The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, recalled that the Mechanism’s Head described its eighth report as valuable, as it tackles the legal and humanitarian challenges harmful to the international community considering the international silence regarding the horrible acts occurring in Syria.  He said, however, that one such “horrible act” was committed by United States occupying forces in eastern Syria in 2019 and asked whether the report of a supposedly independent and impartial mechanism should mention that raid, in which more than 70 women and children were killed.  Addressing further points made by several delegations — including questions as to when horrible acts in Syria will cease — he said that this will occur when occupying forces withdraw from Syrian territory, refrain from supporting terrorism in that country, give up their narrow political agendas and lift their illegitimate sanctions on the Syrian people.

The representative of Iran, recalling a point made by previous speakers that all legal justice systems work confidentially, stated that the Mechanism is neither a judicial nor a legal body.  It is a political entity — one that the General Assembly had no legal basis to create — and therefore it cannot be compared to other legal justice systems, be they international, regional or national.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that said that over the course of the day the topic of Ukraine was touched upon.  Some countries have made it a habit to theatrically talk about violations of international law in Ukraine.  These same countries in the modern period have started many aggressive wars, he said, so the propaganda by the West is no surprise.

The representative of Ukraine said that he listened to the words of the Russian Federation’s representative and said that he wanted to ask him, in Russian, “who is currently on the territory of Ukraine?  It is you and your armed forces, they are currently in Ukraine.  You allow yourself to make us out to be criminals and accuse us of killing our own people.  This is absurd.”

Fifth Conference on Least Developed Countries

UMER YOUNIS (Pakistan), introducing the draft resolution titled “Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries” (document A/76/L.47), stressed that sustainable, inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will require immediate, concerted action and a new generation of revived global partnership.  The Doha Programme of Action is a step in that direction, and its full implementation will help least-developed countries address the ongoing pandemic and its negative socioeconomic impacts, return to the path of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, tackle climate change and progress towards sustainable, irreversible graduation.

By the terms of the text, the General Assembly would recall its resolution 76/251 of 28 February 2022, by which it endorsed the Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, adopted by the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries held in New York on 17 March 2022, and call upon all the relevant stakeholders to commit to implementing the Programme of Action.

The Assembly would also reiterate its appreciation for the generous offer of the Government of Qatar to host the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Doha, to be held at the highest possible level, including Heads of State and Government, in line with the mandate specified in its resolutions 73/242, 74/232 A and B, 75/227 and 76/216, and for providing all the necessary support.  It would further urge all relevant stakeholders to actively engage in the Conference and look forward to its successful and ambitious outcome.

The representative of the Secretariat outlined the Programme Budget Implications.  The request contained in paragraphs 52 and 307 of the Doha Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries (contained as an annex to the draft resolution) would constitute an addition to the documentation workload for the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management in 2023 and entail additional resource requirements in the amount of $52,800 in 2023.  In addition, the request contained in paragraph 261 would constitute an addition to the documentation workload for the Department in 2024 and entail additional resource requirements in the amount of $26,400 in 2024.

Should the General Assembly adopt draft resolution A/76/L.47, additional resource requirements estimated in the amount of $52,800 under section 2, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council affairs and conference management, would be included in the proposed programme budget for 2023 for the consideration of the General Assembly at its 77th session.  Furthermore, additional resource requirements estimated in the amount of $26,400 under the same section would be included in the proposed programme budget for 2024 for the consideration of the General Assembly at its 78th session.

The request contained in paragraph 42 of the Doha Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries (contained as annex to the draft resolution) would entail one pre-session document with a word count of 8,500 words in all six languages in 2022.  The related non-recurrent requirements for documentation services in the amount of $26,400 would be met within existing resources in 2022.  The request contained in paragraphs 52 and 307 would entail an addition to the documentation workload of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management of two pre-session documents with a total wordcount of 17,000 words in all six languages in 2023, entailing non-recurrent requirements for documentation services in the amount of $52,800 in 2023.

In addition, the request contained in paragraph 261 would entail an addition to the documentation workload of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management of one document with a word count of 8,500 words in all six languages in 2024.  Additional non-recurrent requirements for documentation services would arise in 2024 in the amount of $26,400.

The adoption of the draft resolution would therefore give rise to additional requirements.

Furthermore, additional resource requirements in the amounts of $3,200, $6,300 and $3,200 would be required for 2022, 2023 and 2024 respectively under section 36, Staff assessment, which would be offset by an equivalent increase of $3,200, $6,300 and $3,200 in 2022, 2023 and 2024 respectively under income section 1, Income from staff assessment.

The Assembly then adopted resolution A/76/L.47 without a vote.

Explanation of Position

The representative of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said adoption of the resolution sets off the beginning of a decade of change in the lives of 1.4 billion people, acknowledging that the most marginalized and their suffering are not ignored.  The global compact is highly ambitious, aiming for pandemic recovery and building resilience in least developed countries.  Implementation of the Doha Programme of Action is needed as those States struggle, with reversals of development gains, inflation and unmanageable debt burdens.  The war in Ukraine is adding fuel to the flames, driving wheat prices 60 per cent higher and food prices higher than the global crisis of 2008.

The representative of China said he supports the adoption of the resolution, which provides a procedural endorsement of the Doha Programme of Action.  He hopes that the second part of the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries will be held as scheduled and will contribute to the sustainable development of those States.  During the first part on 17 March, he noted that relief came up as a very complex and sensitive issue.  He expressed his concerns over the paragraphs about relief that are too broad and vague and fail to accurately reflect the commitments of the international community on that issue.  He said that he would disassociate from paragraphs 29, 206, 264 of the Programme of Action on the matter of relief.

The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that it did not object to today’s adoption by consensus, said that his country — as a responsible member of the international community — understands the importance of a new programme of action for the socioeconomic development of this group of countries.  He underscored, however, that several provisions in the Doha Programme of Action do not account for the positions of a number of countries, does not reflect consensus and welcomes certain controversial concepts and terms.  Therefore, he disassociated from several paragraphs contained in the resolution, including 3, 98, 104, 105, 116 and 221.

For information media. Not an official record.