SEVENTY-FIRST SESSION, 66TH MEETING (PM)
Resolution Establishing International Mechanism Concerning Syria Passed in Direct Plenary Action
The Assembly adopted a draft resolution on “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011”.
By the terms of that text, adopted by a recorded vote of 105 in favour and 15 against, with 52 abstentions, the Assembly decided to establish that Mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations to closely cooperate with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses and to prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law.
Presenting the Second Committee’s reports was Glauco Seoane (Peru), its Rapporteur.
Speaking during action today were the representatives of Thailand (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Turkey, France (also on behalf of Bulgaria and Romania), Liechtenstein, Syria, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, South Africa, Iran, Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, China, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Singapore, Iraq, Mexico, Thailand, Paraguay and Belize.
The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m., Thursday, 22 December to take up the agenda items on culture of peace and cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Action on Draft Resolutions
The Assembly resumed its plenary agenda items, taking up a draft resolution on “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011” (document A/71/L.48).
Introducing that text, the representative of Liechtenstein said that, with regards to the situation in Syria, actions taken by members of the Security Council with veto power had led to a breakdown of multilateral diplomacy. The Assembly had taken up the challenge in the form of the resolution recently put forward by Canada and the draft before it today. It addressed the need for accountability for crimes committed since 2011, an issue consistently neglected in spite of its urgency. There had been multiple calls to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, but it had been made impossible by the Security Council dynamic. The draft under consideration today allowed for one decisive step towards ensuring accountability, proposing the establishment of an international and impartial mechanism in close cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry to collect and preserve evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses, preparing files to facilitate and expedite future proceedings. It would also lay the groundwork for future criminal trials. While the country itself had the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes committed, in the absence of such proceedings, other steps had to be taken. The mechanism would apply standards of proof, meeting formal criminal justice standards.
The representative of Syria then made a general statement, saying that the resolution violated the United Nations Charter, which stated that the Organization could not intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of States. Legal counsels should have studied that matter, he emphasized, adding that the contents of the resolution had gaps regarding the sovereignty of Member States. Referring to the Charter, he noted that while the Security Council was reviewing a dispute, the Assembly should not make any recommendations with regards to that matter unless the Security Council requested it. In the case of Syria, the Security Council was still seized with its responsibilities, having recently adopted Security Council resolution 2328 (2016). Thus, the actions of Liechtenstein and Qatar, in launching the current initiative, violated the Charter. The establishment of the proposed mechanism was a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a Member State, undermining the legal jurisdictions of national authorities and organs as well as national reconciliation efforts undertaken by his Government, thus constituting a direct threat to a political solution in Syria. He added that the co-sponsors had also made no reference to terrorism in Syria. That was to be expected since the co-sponsors of that terrorism were among the co-sponsors of the resolution, he said.
Also speaking in explanation of position, the representative of the Russian Federation said that the Assembly did not have the right to establish subsidiary bodies with power that the body did not have. Therefore, the adoption of the draft resolution would exceed the Assembly’s mandate and would constitute direct interference into the internal affairs of Member States. That would also set back the peace process in Syria. Further, the secretive nature of the preparation of the resolution was telling. Therefore, the Russian Federation would vote against the draft.
The representative of Venezuela, condemning the continued escalation of violence in Syria as a result of the war waged by more than 60 terrorist groups seeking to undermine the legitimate Government, said that the war was also destabilizing the region as a whole. The main people responsible for the suffering were now saying they were concerned about the suffering. It was clear that there was a bias in favour of toppling the Government. Noting the disastrous consequences of such actions in Libya and Iraq, he asked why war crimes in Palestine and Libya and Yemen were not investigated as well. The current resolution was biased and politically motivated and Venezuela would vote against it.
The representative of Ecuador said that it was important to bring the perpetrators of war crimes to justice including those which provided financial or military support to terrorists. The draft created an unprecedented mechanism and undermined the sovereign jurisdiction of States while weakening the architecture of international justice created by the Rome Statute. The draft also did not take into consideration the complex nature of the conflict and sought to illegitimately cause regime change in Syria. Further, by requesting that the mechanism be funded by voluntary contributions, the co-sponsors were undermining the impartial nature of the mechanism.
The representative of Cuba said that her delegation could not support a resolution that failed to recognize that the Syrian Government and its judicial system were primarily responsible for investigating any crime committed on that country’s territories.
The representative of South Africa, voicing support for the protection of human rights of all people affected by different international crises, said that when we were dealing with human lives, extensive dialogue and consultations were crucial. One-sided resolutions in the Assembly were not helping to resolve the conflict in Syria.
The representative of Iran said that the international community had a long way to go in addressing terrorism. Syria had suffered and it was incumbent upon the international community to support that country in their difficult fight against extremism. The current draft did exactly the opposite. It was an unconstructive move on both political and legal grounds.
The representative of Algeria said that there should be no double standards in the battle against impunity. His country had contributed actively in the discussions about reforming the United Nations. Condemning all violations of human rights all over the world, he called for accountability “wherever they are”. The Security Council had not submitted any request to the Assembly regarding establishing a Mechanism as called for by the draft. Establishing such a Mechanism in such an expedient manner without broad consultations would lead to failure.
The representative of Syria said that many delegations had raised procedural issues. Article 12 of the United Nations Charter prohibited the Assembly from considering any issue as long as it was seized by the Security Council. What was the legal opinion on this? he asked.
The President of the General Assembly said that Article 12 did not prevent the body from considering items on the agenda of the Council, especially if the items were not identical. The words “is exercising” had been interpreted as “exercising at this moment”.
The representative of Syria recalled Article 12 of the Charter again. The legal advisers in this room had cheated Member States several times with “twisted rulings”, he said.
The President said that if the representative of Syria wished to challenge the President’s ruling, which was based on the legal advice available to him, it was necessary to inform the Assembly about that intention.
The representative of Syria said that it was necessary to open the eyes of Member States about irresponsible activities taking place in the Organization. Legal advisers had to be impartial.
The President said that it was necessary to move on since the representative of Syria had made his point of order.
The Secretary then made a statement about co-sponsors to the resolution.
The Assembly then adopted that resolution by a recorded vote of 105 in favour and 15 against, with 52 abstentions. By the terms of that text, the Assembly decided to establish that Mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations to closely cooperate with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses and to prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law.
Also in explanation of position, the representative of Argentina recalled that his country had on many occasions supported referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Therefore, it had voted in favour of the resolution today in order to ensure the preservation of evidence and enable effective accountability in the future. That was without prejudice to reaffirming that the primary jurisdiction over the events occurring during that conflict and the obligation to investigate them corresponded to Syrian courts. A United Nations accountability mechanism should be funded from the regular Organization budget as a guarantee of impartiality and independence, he stressed, adding that his country would have preferred that reflected in the text.
Explaining his position, the representative of Brazil said his country had voted in favour of the resolution, sharing the concern that evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity was rapidly vanishing. Preserving such evidence was instrumental to the goal of bringing all perpetrators to justice in accordance with due process. Stressing the legitimacy of the Mechanism, he said it should not be instrumentalized to enable “in absentia” trials based on questionable claims regarding universal jurisdiction.
The representative of Guatemala said his country had voted in favour of the resolution, reaffirming that it was incumbent on the international community to facilitate access to justice. It was important to collect and preserve evidence as soon as possible. However, Guatemala would have preferred the Mechanism to be financed through the regular budget of the Organization to preserve its impartial nature. He called on all parties to fully cooperate with the Mechanism to ensure it could discharge its mandate.
The representative of China appealed for an end to the conflict and the resolution of the issue through dialogue and consultations. It was opposed to any acts in violation of international humanitarian law and human rights. While addressing impunity, precedence should be given to respecting the country’s sovereignty. The Special Envoy had announced that the Geneva peace talks would be resumed in February. The international community should respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and avoid complicating the problem.
The representative of Vietnam, while expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, also warned about the establishing of a new mechanism without proper consultation with all parties concerned. The Mechanism also failed to ensure impartiality, she said, stressing that its functions and obligations must be conform to the United Nations Charter, including the principle of respect for sovereignty and non-intervention into States’ internal affairs. Therefore, Vietnam had abstained from voting.
The representative of Indonesia said resolutions already adopted on the issue provided a solid basis for the cessation of hostilities, the granting of humanitarian assistance and the finding of a political solution. His country had abstained from voting today because of questions around the need for establishing a new mechanism with an uncertain mandate in a time of emergency. That had the potential for shifting focus from the needs of the population on the ground. He urged States to consider implementing resolutions already adopted, stressing humanitarian assistance and access for humanitarian workers.
The representative of Egypt stated that accountability for human rights violations was of utmost importance, wherever they were perpetrated, whether in Syria, Libya or Iraq. His delegation had abstained from voting because of the lack of transparency in preparing the draft resolution. It was unacceptable that a small group of States had consulted among themselves about a draft that concerned the international community, acting as if the draft were a “military secret”. Some States cried for accountability when they were the ones implicated in supporting terrorism.
The representative of Kyrgyzstan, voicing support for an expeditious end to the armed conflict in Syria, said that the work must be done on the basis of the United Nations Charter. The adoption of a resolution not supported by the country in question politicized the work of the Assembly.
The representative of Singapore, expressing concern about the humanitarian situation in Syria, said that he had abstained because the terms of reference of the proposed Mechanism were not clear. He questioned as to how the Mechanism would relate to existing international courts and tribunals. International efforts should focus on supporting all involved parties from ceasing hostilities and improving the humanitarian situation.
The representative of Iraq, recalling that his country was suffering from terrorist attacks, stated that the Mechanism should be clear in its purposes and target terrorist groups. The draft resolution did not name certain terrorist groups, and its terms of reference were not established in consultation with the relevant State.
The representative of Mexico called on all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks and achieve a solution through diplomatic means. Since 2014, Mexico had promoted an initiative to restrict the use of the veto in the Security Council in cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It was important to give high priority for accountability, she said, adding that her country had voted for the resolution. However, the legitimacy of the new Mechanism was critical for its success, and its source of financing was of great importance for that purpose.
The representative of Thailand said his country had supported the resolution because of the importance it attached to the principles of the Charter and international law. However, in practical terms, many challenges remained regarding how it would proceed, as well as concern regarding the lack of clarity about its relationship with the Commission of Inquiry.
The representative of Paraguay said his country had abstained from voting. Accountability and responsibility for abuses of human rights was critical. However, the Security Council and General Assembly had responded in those terms in recent weeks through resolutions which moved towards alleviating the situation. Thus, once the urgency of the humanitarian aspect had been addressed, other elements of the current resolution had not been discussed with the time that the topic deserved.
The representative of Belize said her country had supported the resolution. It applied to all parties to the conflict as well as civil society and was neither selective nor punitive. It was critical that the Mechanism functioned verifiably and served its purpose to consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Qatar said that the representative of Syria was continuing to make false allegations, and taking advantage of the United Nations to launch propaganda against Member States.
The representative of Turkey said that the representative of Syria’s intervention contained many distortions. It was obvious that the resolution adequately addressed the situation in that country.
The representative of Saudi Arabia also rejected the “distorted facts” in the words spoken by the representative of Syria and thanked the countries who had adopted the current resolution. It was “in harmony with the request for accountability” at the Arab League meeting held about Syria.
The representative of Syria said that the Assembly had adopted a resolution that violated the Organization’s Charter and legitimized interference in the internal affairs of his country.