The case of crimes against humanity and the need for justice Syria, Libya, and Yemen discussed at a side event to HRC 18

In United Nations Human Rights Council by CIHRS

Yesterday, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), in cooperation with Haitham Maleh Foundation for the Defense of Syrian Human Rights Defenders, Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL), and Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights in Yemen (SAF), held a side event during the proceedings of the 18th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva about the situation in Syria, Libya and Yemen, with a focus on the case of Crimes against Humanity and the need for justice.

Ms. Elham Saudi, president of LFTJ asserted that human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity have in fact been occurring for the past 42 years of Qaddafi’s reign. Ms. Saudi provided the audience with alarming statistics estimating the death toll at around 30,000 with another 50,000 individuals forcibly disappeared since the uprising. The situation is particularly alarming in areas such as Tripoli, where in the past six days alone, more than 13 mass graves were uncovered. Ms. Saudi stressed: “it is not about numbers, but rather how to deal with these numbers in a way that would lead to accountability and justice”.

A full array of accountability measures are being initiated in the case of Libya, with an indictment of former Libyan leaders by the International Criminal Court (ICC), a case filed at the African Court, in addition to plans for domestic remedies. Ms. Saudi stressed that transitional justice could only be successful if “true healing” to victims was attained for pre and post conflict crimes, and that “the stories of victims almost never start with the revolution, but always years before it”. Ms. Saudi offered hope for the transition period, stating: “the one thing Qaddafi succeeded to do was to unite the Libyan people”.

Amal Al- Basha, prominent Yemeni human rights defender and the president of SAF, presented pictures of peaceful protesters who have been killed recently by government forces in a peaceful protest in Sanaa. According to Ms. Al-Basha, crimes against humanity in Yemen go beyond the targeting of peaceful protesters, and extend to a “policy of collective punishment that the Yemeni regime has been practicing against the entire population”. Ms. Al Basha condemned the shameful silence of the international community on Yemen. She said: “all what we ask of you [HRC] is to call for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the atrocious crimes against humanity committed by the regime”.

Mr.Haitham Al-Maleh, prominent lawyer and amongst Syria’s most respected human rights defenders, gave a historic overview of the roots of repression in Syria, stating that the police state in Syria, protected by an arsenal of repressive laws, have been perpetrating Crimes against Humanity for decades, and that now it has “lost not only its legitimacy but also its humanity.” He explained that since the beginning of the revolution thousands of people have been killed and arrested overloading Syrian prisons and other facilities such as schools and sports clubs, “making Syria into a one big prison”. Mr. Maleh emphasized that the Syrian government has declared war on its citizens, perpetrating Crimes against Humanity that must be referred to the ICC; he called for the full support of government states that have been hesitant to do so: “We hope the international community will stop the bloodshed; we have paid a lot for our dignity”.

The speakers concluded their statements with an emphasis on the need for strong political pressure from the international community and a clear and affirmative approach towards the protection of Human Rights in the context of peaceful protest.

The event was attended by over 40 representatives from state delegations, NGOs, and regional and international organizations.