Geneva II Conference on Syria : Unrestricted humanitarian access and release of peaceful activists should be minimum output

FIDH urges participants attending the Geneva II Conference on January 22 to secure unrestricted access to humanitarian aid throughout Syria, the release of peaceful activists, the participation and full involvement of civil society representatives as well as women in the process of conflict resolution.

The civil war in Syria has so far killed over 100, 000 people and driven some 6.5 million others from their homes. Now approaching the end of its third year, the humanitarian crisis is at its peak. An estimated 250,000 civilians are trapped in besieged communities, while some 2.5 million are in hard-to-reach areas where aid workers cannot access frequently enough to address the population’s needs. Notwithstanding a robust Presidential Statement by the UN Security Council in October 2013 calling for unfettered humanitarian access in Syria, the provision of humanitarian aid continues to be blocked, and the UN estimates that nearly three-quarters of the country’s 22 million people will be in need of humanitarian aid in 2014.

The Geneva II Conference will be a failure if the parties cannot, at a minimum, agree and immediately implement the call of the UN Security Council to grant unfettered humanitarian access in Syria, so that aid workers can deliver vital supplies to the population, said Shawan Jabarin, FIDH Vice-president.

Furthermore, FIDH calls upon the UN and states participating in the Conference to take this opportunity to urge both the Syrian government and armed opposition groups to release all peaceful activists, including peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and political activists, aid workers, journalists, physicians, and lawyers. Since the beginning of the conflict, the Syrian government has been carrying out large-scale campaigns of arbitrary arrests and has jailed tens of thousands of civilians without sparing women, children, and people with disabilities or serious medical conditions. Inhumane conditions of detention and the widespread use of torture have led to the death of thousands of detainees. Armed opposition groups, notably extremist Islamist groups, have themselves also increasingly targeted peaceful groups and individuals.

All parties to this conflict should immediately put an end to abduction, detention and torture of peaceful civilians, which are blatant violations of the Geneva Conventions. The international community should put the release of human rights defenders and peaceful activists at the heart of their discussions on Syria. Rights defenders, victims advocates, and peaceful activists are key stakeholders for the rebuilding of the rule of law in the country, they should be released in accordance with international human rights law, said Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH.

Therefore, FIDH calls for the participation and full involvement of civil society representatives, including women, in the process of conflict resolution. FIDH also strongly supports the call of Syrian women civil society members and activists to respect Syrian women’s right to full political participation in all matters related to shaping the future of their country, and encourages the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in the case of Syria.

Finally, FIDH recalls that discussions to resolve the Syrian armed conflict should not in any way put aside the crucial issue of individual criminal responsibility for the most serious crimes. While the UN Security Council has recognised that those who have committed or are otherwise responsible for such violations and abuses in Syria must be brought to justice, these crimes continue to take place with full impunity. FIDH reiterates its call for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

If those most responsible for the international crimes committed in Syria are not brought to justice, this will be another tacit endorsement for escalating massacres and other international crimes. Impunity for such international crimes can just not ever be tolerated, added Karim Lahidji.

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