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Panel Discussions - Monday, March 12, 2012

Pinheiro: Stopping Armed Violence Most Urgent Priority in Syria

“We think the most urgent target is a cessation of armed violence.” Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Council Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria 2011-2012, told an IPI policy forum on March 21st.

“I am not using the word ‘ceasefire.’ Ceasefire is when you have balance of armed forces. This does not exist in Syria,” he said.

Mr. Pinheiro was presenting the findings of the Commission’s second report, the first having been published in November. He warned against talk of armed foreign intervention in the conflict. “For the sake of the rights of the victims, we think that militarization will contribute to escalate the present armed confrontation to a full-fledged civil war, and it will be much more difficult to negotiate in the format of a full-fledged civil war than now. Let’s not be light about that,” he said.

The report included an assessment of the armed opposition forces’ capabilities, he said, concluding that there is no clear chain of command. “I think it is important not to have illusions about the capability of the Free Syrian Army, or the armed groups. The armed groups are not armed groups. They are citizens who are armed, many times to protect their neighborhoods. They are not coordinated. There is no coordination among armed groups all over Syria. This doesn’t exist,” he said.

“Only an inclusive dialogue with the government and the currents or factions in the opposition,” is the way forward, he said. “It’s not an easy thing, because as in any case in our transitions in South America, opposition is divided, those who stay inside the country and those who are abroad.”

“We are indicating people capable of being investigated for crimes against humanity,” he reported. “This does not mean that because we are negotiating, we will forget the human rights violations, the crimes against humanity. It is something that this is our job. The centrality of our job is the situation of the victims. For them we cannot just have a blind eye for violations.”

Also speaking were the two other members of the Commission, Akin Erturk and Karen Koning AbuZayd. Ms. Erturk’s remarks focused on the methodology of the report, along with a call for accountability. “We concluded that serious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity have been committed pursuant to policy from the highest level with impunity,” she said. These policies and directives came from the highest levels of the Syrian government, she said.

“In developing our standard of proof for reliable evidence, we have used at least two witness accounts, corroborated by other information, and made sure that these witness accounts were reliable and consistent across the information collected by our investigators,” she said.

“We did not use much of the information made available to us which may have made the report more interesting perhaps, more sensationalized, but we prefer to be on safe ground and talk about things that actually, with confidence, say that there is sufficient evidence. So, we as commissioners feel confident of what is claimed in the two reports.”

Koning AbuZayd spoke of the humanitarian situation in Syria. She explained that the crisis had created almost 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), and an estimated 18,000 detainees, with no numbers for disappeared persons.

She explained that many humanitarian agencies are already operating in Syria, albeit more heavily in the non-conflict-affected areas. These existing civilian mechanisms, she said, should be kept in mind when discussing delivering humanitarian aid as they would also provide an alternative to creating humanitarian corridors that would need foreign military protection.

“This is not very responsible,” Pinheiro said. “To play with these ideas of no-fly zone, humanitarian corridors protected by foreign armies, without the consent of the Syrian government. Let’s not play with that.”

Moderating the event was Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations at IPI.

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