Syria: Security Council strongly condemns attacks against schools and shelling of the Russian Embassy
29 October 2016
The United Nations Security Council has condemned in the “strongest terms” an attack yesterday on the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Syria’s capital Damascus as well as the widely reported recent attacks on schools in the country, according to separate statements issued late yesterday.
In the first statement, condemning the mortar shelling of the Russian Embassy, that caused “significant material damage,” the Council members recalled the principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises, and the obligations on host Governments to take all appropriate steps to protect these premises against any intrusion or damage, and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of these missions or impairment of their dignity, and to prevent any attack on diplomatic premises, agents and consular officers.
Also yesterday, the 15-member body issued a second statement, condemning the widely reported attacks on a school complex in Haas village, Idlib governorate, on 26October, which killed at least 22 children and teachers, and on a school in the western part of Aleppo on 28 October, which killed a number of children, and called for impartial investigations.
“The members of the Security Council expressed outrage at all attacks against civilians and civilian objects, and indiscriminate attacks throughout Syria,” noted the statement.
The Council members also recalled all obligations under international humanitarian law must be respected in all circumstances by all parties and in particular, the obligation to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants and the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks and attacks against civilians and civilian objects, the statement added.
Reaffirming the primary responsibility of the Syrian authorities to protect the population, the Council members reiterated that parties to the armed conflict may not make civilians the object of attack or use them as human shields.
They further reiterated that that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed and called on all parties to take measures to avoid harm to civilians.
In the statement, members of the Council also reaffirmed the need for all States to combat by all means, in accordance with the UN Charter and obligations under international law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.
The members of the Security Council also reiterated that the only sustainable solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process with a view to the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, which was adopted after the first international meeting on the issue on 30 June 2012, and since endorsed by the Council.
Russia Voted Off U.N. Human Rights Council
Ouster is seen as backlash to Russia’s Syria policy
By Farnaz Fassihi
Updated Oct. 28, 2016 6:38 p.m. ET
UNITED NATIONS—Russia was ousted from the United Nations Human Rights Council in a General Assembly vote on Friday, signaling a backlash against its policies in Syria.
Russia lost its bid for re-election to council membership by just two votes, but human-rights organizations and some diplomats called the rejection “historic.”
“It’s hard to imagine the atrocities happening in Aleppo were not on the minds of those casting a ballot,” said Akshaya Kumar, deputy U.N. director for the group Human Rights Watch.
In the past few weeks, efforts to isolate and publicly shame Russia for supporting Syria’s regime in a siege of the city of Aleppo and for vetoing a cease-fire have gained ground at the U.N. During meetings of the Security Council and the Human Rights Council last week, member states said the atrocities committed in Aleppo by Syria and its backers—namely Russia—amounted to war crimes.
Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin has brushed off the criticism as hostile rhetoric and dismissed the rebuff on Friday. He said the two countries that beat Russia in the competition for Eastern Europe’s allotted seats on the Human Rights Council—Hungary and Croatia—“are not as exposed to the winds of international diplomacy.”
The council, a 47-member body in Geneva, was created in 2006 to promote human rights globally and hold accountable those who violate the basic principles. It is an influential body within the U.N. system, and countries lobby to obtain votes for a seat.
Members of the council work to engage countries on improving human rights and make decisions ranging from exposing violations to recommending that the Security Council make a referral to the International Criminal Court.
The council doesn’t have the authority to take action but can exert significant pressure on the violating country and set up special rapporteurs with the mandate to investigate and report human-rights abuses.
There were 14 open slots in Friday’s election, allocated to different regions of the world. Russia sought one of the Eastern Europe seats, running against Hungary and Croatia.
The composition of the council has long been controversial. Because U.N. decisions are driven by its member states, any country can gain a seat on the council providing it has support from two-thirds of the General Assembly. Countries’ records on human rights frequently don’t appear to be factors in how the General Assembly votes.
Human-rights organizations have long contended that having countries like Russia, China, Rwanda and Saudi Arabia on the council undermines its credibility and cripples it in its task.
Before Friday’s vote, more than 80 human-rights and international aid organizations signed a letter urging U.N. members to block Russia’s election to the council. Separate petitions by UN Watch, an independent watchdog, collected signatures against Russia and Saudi Arabia.
“For Saudi Arabia to decide who will be an investigator on violence against women or arbitrary detention is asking the foxes to guard the henhouse,” UN Watch’s petition against Saudi Arabia on change.org said. It had collected more than 5,000 signatures.
Saudi Arabia has come under fire because of its involvement in Yemen’s civil war. Critics have maintained Saudi Arabia has targeted civilians and contributed to famine and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.
Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia won its bid for a seat on Friday with 152 votes, largely because it ran unopposed in its regional group of Asia. All 193 members of the General Assembly voted for the 14 council seats open for election on Friday.
The U.S. and U.K. ran uncontested in the Western Europe slate and won seats. Other countries elected Friday were China, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Japan, Iraq, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia.
The rejection of Russia marked the first time since the Human Rights Council was formed in 2006 that a major world power was denied a seat. Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand’s ambassador to the U.N., said there was a sense of shock in the General Assembly after the votes were read out loud. He said Russia’s role in Syria “must have played a part” in the members’ decision.
In 2001, the U.S. was rejected by the now-defunct Commission on Human Rights, the council’s predecessor, because of Bush administration policies seen as hostile toward international organizations and favoring unilateral U.S. action.