Marinella Correggia of the Italian “No-War Network – Roma“, criticizes the recent report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (CoI), mandated by the UN Human Rights Council for lacking evidence and for being one-sided.
Corregia and the No-War Network – Roma (NWNR) are warning against using the flawed and strongly biased report as a basis for decisions at the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 17 September. According to Corregia, the report offers many conclusions but does not contain much evidence to justify them.
Corregia and the No-War network are calling for a negotiated solution to the conflict in Syria, beginning with a cease fire. The Syrian people, she states, should have the possibility of expressing themselves on their future, in conditions of peace and without foreign interference.
The NWNR points out that such a plan has previously been agreed upon, but that the implementation has been deliberately thwarted by by a number of foreign powers who are determined to exacerbate the conflict by supplying even grater amounts of arms and money to those opposition forces who are striving to gain control of the country through violence.
Corregia points out that these nations media have justified their interference into the internal affairs of a sovereign state by claiming that it was necessary to protect civilians, and specifically that it was necessary to stop massacres perpetrated by the Syrian government on unarmed protesters.
Corregia states that this simplistic narrative unfortunately seems to have served as a framework for the investigation into the Syrian conflict by the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
The Commission concludes that there are “reasonable grounds” to hold that Syrian government forces and Syrian paramilitary irregulars “shabbiha”, have been mandated by the government to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights and international law.
The Commission´s report states that “opposition forces” have committed human rights violations too but minimizes their nature and seriousness and it does not attribute any responsibility to leaders within the oppositions command structure.
According to Marinella Correggia and the No-War Network – Roma, the report lacks credibility also, because the investigators did not obtain the relatively free access to the country that the U.N. Observer Mission had enjoyed before them, pointing out that completely free access is impossible in war zones. The Commission itself stated that the lack of free access “significantly hindered the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mandate.”
Corregia criticizes the Commissions methodology, stating that randomly chosen and geographically widely-distributed “victims and eye witnesses could not be interviewed in person.” In particular the “access to the victims of opposition violence was limited” and “access to the Syrian army and to members of the Syrian government was almost nonexistent.”
Civil or religious groups in Syria, such as the Sovvt (Syrian Observatory for victims of violence and terrorism) or Vox Clamantis (a Catholic media center), could have furnished witnesses and victims of violence to be interrogated by the Commission even by phone, and also an alternative version of many events. Even the UN observers are rarely quoted by the report.
She notes also that the CoI report quoted and refers to former reports by UN Commissions and Ngos which are equally one-sided concerning the witnesses and lack evidences.
Instead, as the report states, the Commission conducted its interviews – several hundred in all – among Syrian refugees now living in neighboring countries or, through Skype or cellphone connections from Geneva, among a restricted group of Syrians living inside the country. “Who were the people making up this latter group?”, Corregia asks.
On the basis of an analysis of the geographical distribution of the calls and taking into consideration the previous reports by the same Commission, it seems highly likely that the Commission interviewed mostly those Syrians who belong to the opposition movement.
Thus, she states, the Commission heard representatives of one side giving their version of those events – such as the massacre at Houla – for which, according to media reports, two versions (or more) seem to exist.
Indeed, as often occurs in cases of civil unrest, the violence in Syria is probably many sided and, in any case, disparate: numerous witnesses of atrocities, cited in reports coming out of Syria (but not in the Commission report), have in fact complained that it was not possible to identify the assailants; or that the symbols or uniforms worn did not seem genuine; or that the violence committed seemed to be absolutely indiscriminate.
In short, Correggia states, there is a vast gray area surrounding the perpetration of atrocities in Syria that belies the neat, black and white account presented by the Commission.
For instance, it is clear that, in a conflict like the one in Syria, that armed groups belonging to the opposition have invaded and taken over largely pro-government neighborhoods, thus making the inhabitants there virtual hostages; it is also conceivable that some of these inhabitants might have paid dearly for their lack of support of the opposition.
Nothing of this kind appears in the Commission’s report. Nor do the witnesses interviewed speak of the gruesome acts of intimidation by opposition forces that have surfaced in Western media.
As for the “regime crimes” it goes to great lengths to denounce, the Commission makes no distinction between actions committed by the Syrian army, for which the Commission rightly holds the government responsible, and bloodshed caused by armed pro-government civilians, lumped together under the label “shabbiha” (which the Commission itself considers a nebulous entity).
In any virulent civil conflict, civilians on both sides are wont to take up arms spontaneously and may kill accidentally or indiscriminately; they may even, at times, commit deliberate crimes.
Yet in the Commission’s report we discover for the most part only those killings and crimes committed by the civilians on the government side.
What is more, because any armed pro-government civilian is (for the Commission) necessarily a “shabbiha”, the government is held responsible for any and all violent acts committed.
Even more glaring is the total absence of any reference to a “third party” in the violence in Syria, for example the death squads that, according to leaked government documents, foreign powers have financed and sent into Syria. The witnesses interviewed by the Commission seem to have seen practically nothing but the violence committed by government mandated forces.
Furthermore Correggia points out that independent media have described, for example, a long list of terrorist bombings, which have partially destroyed key government buildings and killed dozens of civilians in and around them.
News media have managed to report from the scene of such events and to debunk the hypothesis that these crimes might have been perpetrated by the government itself in order to discredit the opposition, since too many vital government interests were touched.
The Commission, however, claiming that it “lacks sufficient access” to the scene of the bombings, has refused to attribute these war crimes to the opposition and, instead, lists them as unaccountable internal disorders.
The Commission is silent also on the several sabotages of public infrastructures occurred in 2011/12.
Correggia concludes that given the Commission’s international mandate, the partiality and one-sidedness of the CoI report is both flabbergasting and disconcerting.
Corregia asks, has the U.N. no internal assessment mechanism to prevent such abuses in the “documentation” of events upon which the U.N. is then required to act?
Marinella Correggia and the No-War Network strongly discourage the use of the report as a basis for any decisions pertaining conflict resolution and the crisis in Syria.
Dr. Christof Lehmann, nsnbc
Marinella Correggia´s and the No-War Network Roma´s complete resumé as well as the complete evaluation of the commissions report are to be found at the website of the No-War Network – Roma. LINK: