The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Ms. Alina Douhan, made an official visit to Syria on October 31, 2022, to study the impact of unilateral sanctions on human rights and the right to development in Syria. Her report, published on July 3, 2023, calls for the lifting of these sanctions on the Syrian regime, considering the maintenance of unilateral sanctions in the current catastrophic situation, which continues to deteriorate in the country, to be a crime against humanity committed against the entire Syrian people.
The legal team of the Free Syrian Lawyers Association, at the commencement of the rapporteur’s visit to the Syrian Arab Republic, issued a legal study titled “The Integrity of the Syrian Regime in Amplifying the Negative Impact of Unilateral Measures”. This study warned that the Special Rapporteur’s report, if not mindful of several points mentioned in the study, would lack professionalism and be devoid of scientific and legal methodology. After issuing her initial statement at the end of her visit, the legal team analyzed the statement. The Free Syrian Lawyers Association (FSLA) issued a legal statement pointing out several legal points that the Rapporteur should consider when issuing her final report. However, she deliberately ignored all the data and facts mentioned in the statement and the legal study, and issued her report with legal errors and fallacies that render the report unprofessional, impartial, transparent, and lacking in integrity. This is in violation of the good faith that the mandate holders of the Human Rights Council’s special procedures should abide by. The report’s shortcomings are summarized as follows:
Violation of the Code of Conduct for mandate holders within the framework of the Human Rights Council’s special procedures
1- In issuing reports, mandate holders must adhere to the rules of the Code of Conduct. However, Ms. Alina Douhan mentioned in her report 14 times phrases such as “information provided by the Syrian government”, “according to government data”, “paper submitted by the Syrian Arab Republic” and based the information in this report on the data provided by the Syrian regime. In addition to this, she relied on Annex No. 8 titled “Introductory Guide to the Unilateral Measures Imposed on the Syrian Arab Republic 2020”, attached to the national report of the Syrian Arab Republic submitted in the 40th Universal Periodic Review session on January 24, 2022. All the information provided by Ms. Alina in her statement is included in the aforementioned annex, without verifying the accuracy of these data and information. This constitutes a serious violation of Article 3, paragraph (b) of the Code of Conduct, which explicitly states: “Not to seek or accept instructions from any government or individual, or governmental or non-governmental organization, or pressure group, whatsoever.” By accepting information from the Syrian regime without referring to or providing evidence that she consulted experts to analyze this data and information, and verify their credibility, she violated the Code. Moreover, the impact of this data on amplifying the negative reality of human rights in Syria was not considered. Article 6, paragraph (a) of the Code of Conduct stipulates: “Always strive to ascertain facts, based on objective, reliable information derived from relevant, trustworthy sources, verified to the greatest possible extent.”
Ms. Alena Douhan mentioned in paragraph 86 of the report, describing unilateral measures as coercive measures, and she literally stated, “Maintaining unilateral sanctions amidst the current catastrophic situation in Syria, which continues to deteriorate, may constitute a crime against humanity committed against the entire Syrian people.” This legal description contradicts Article 7 of the Code of Conduct, which stipulates that “state holders should strictly comply with their duties and their states’ conditions and should take special care to ensure that their recommendations do not exceed the scope of these states or the authority of the Council itself
” This description of coercive measures is within the remit of the rapporteur. However, describing them as a crime against humanity exceeds the professional and technical jurisdiction. Describing measures as a crime against humanity requires a high burden of proof according to international criminal law. The state holders of the Human Rights Council are not a judicial body capable of issuing a criminal description according to international criminal law. Their task is limited to describing human rights violations. The jurisdiction over whether an act constitutes a war crime or a crime against humanity is reserved for the appropriate courts.
The rapporteur mentioned in her report in paragraph 99, “The Special Rapporteur welcomes the work of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic with the international human rights system, including those responsible for mandates under the special procedures of the Human Rights Council.” This is absurd and a blatant violation of the Code of Conduct, Article 3, paragraph (d), which focuses exclusively on the implementation of their mandate, always ensuring to observe the fundamental commitments to honesty, sincerity, and independence in relation to their mandate. What she mentioned about the Syrian regime’s cooperation with human rights bodies contradicts blatantly the information and data published by the Human Rights Council, the body to which the Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan belongs. We will list numerically the extent of the Syrian regime’s cooperation with the bodies of the Human Rights Council.
The Syrian regime has ratified eight (08) basic human rights treaties. Regarding the submission of reports to treaty committees, the regime is one of the worst countries in the world in terms of its delay and non-compliance in submitting the required reports to treaty committees.
The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Committee has been delayed since 2009 and defaulted on sending the report until 2021. We issued two human rights reports in conjunction with 19 civil society organizations showing the Syrian regime’s non-compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee: The regime has not submitted its required report since 2006.
- The Convention Against Torture: The regime has not submitted its required report since 2014.
- The CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women): The regime has not submitted its required report since 2018.
- The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination: The regime has not submitted its required report since 2000.
The growing role of warlords, security forces, and militia leaders, who now control various aspects of economic, social, service life, and the corruption occurring with the knowledge and possibly even under the directives of the Syrian government, exacerbates the situation. There is a deterioration in the basic services provided by the government and a lack of clarity in decision-making, starting with the imposition of fees and taxes on ordinary Syrian citizens. The evasion of these taxes by major traders and influencers associated with the Syrian government has left a clear gap in tax collection.
Additionally, the random lifting of government subsidies without clear standards and a well-studied economic plan in terms of impacts and results has worsened the situation. All these factors combined, due to the behavior of the Syrian government, have increased the economic suffering of the Syrians. The Syrian government’s actions are the cause of this suffering and exacerbate the effects of coercive measures. The problem lies in the Syrian government’s approach to dealing with these measures and exploiting them to increase the suffering of Syrians in order to promote the idea that lifting these measures will solve the economic problem. However, the real problem lies in the structure and politics of the Syrian government, its agencies, institutions, and its way of managing the country’s affairs.
Despite the exceptions to coercive measures that do not hinder the arrival of humanitarian and medical aid, including vital and necessary support, European sanctions do not ban the export of foodstuffs, medicines, or medical equipment. However, the Syrian government has repeatedly exploited, controlled, and manipulated humanitarian aid in Syria by withholding it from opponents and granting it to others. The Syrian government has seized humanitarian aid and diverted it to the benefit of military forces and militias, and it has used the issue of humanitarian aid to support its military strategy. This confirms that coercive measures, which do not hinder the arrival of humanitarian aid, have made the Syrian government’s control over humanitarian aid even more dangerous, exacerbating the suffering of Syrians and undermining human rights in Syria.
In her statement, Ms. Alena Douhan ignored the gross human rights violations committed by the Syrian regime against Syrians, which are unrelated to unilateral measures, but have no less impact on human rights in Syria than unilateral measures. She did not mention these in any statement, although the basic principle of human rights is that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, intertwined, and mutually reinforcing, and that all human rights must be treated fairly and equitably, on an equal footing and with the same degree of attention; peace, security, development, and human rights are the pillars upon which the United Nations system stands, and they are interrelated elements that reinforce each other. Thus, for the enjoyment of human rights and the right to development to be realized, all other rights must be protected by the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime must be called upon to halt all forms of gross human rights violations in Syria.
We call on the Human Rights Council to review the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Ms. Alena Douhan, in accordance with the code of conduct for mandate holders under the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, and to review and evaluate all reports and information provided by the Syrian regime, which she relied upon in her report without resorting to experts, and to delete all paragraphs that violate these rules of professionalism, neutrality, transparency, integrity, and good faith, especially in relation to the Syrian regime’s cooperation with human rights bodies.
We warn the Human Rights Council that issuing such a report, which lacks professionalism and neutrality and flatters the Syrian regime by deliberately distorting facts, will violate the guiding principles of the Human Rights Council in its work, which are summarized in the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, and constructive international dialogue and cooperation, with the aim of advancing the promotion and protection of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights, including the right to development.
We call on the countries active in the Syrian file to reject what was stated in this report for its lack of professionalism, neutrality, transparency, integrity, and good faith.
We warn the international community that patching unilateral measures in the presence of the current Syrian regime, with its gross violations of human rights, and its control and seizure of humanitarian aid, turning it into a weapon against the Syrian people and depriving its opponents of it, will undermine the political process and lead to the disruption of Security Council Resolution 2254 of 2015, prolonging the suffering of Syrians and prolonging the conflict in Syria. Therefore, lifting these measures should be contingent on the Syrian government’s commitment to implementing Security Council resolutions. There is no solution in Syria without achieving this item by agreeing on a constitution that represents all Syrians, where human rights principles are an integral part, respecting and safeguarding the freedom and dignity of Syrian citizens, and forming the social contract that Syrians will agree on to build the future Syria for all Syrians and achieve lasting peace.