In relation to the 130th session of the Human Rights Committee of the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) has contributed to the submitting of three reports to be considered for the monitoring of Syria’s obligations under the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.’
The Human Rights Committee is one of several human rights treaty bodies made up of independent experts and mandated to monitor State parties’ compliance with their treaty obligations. The Committee is specifically concerned with one core international human rights treaty: the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ (ICCPR).
All States that have ratified or acceded to the Covenant must submit reports to the Committee on the measures they have adopted to give effect to the rights the Covenant establishes and on the progress made in the enjoyment of those rights (Article 40 of the Covenant). Upon ratifying the Covenant, every State party undertakes to submit within a year of the Covenant’s entry into force for that State its initial report. Afterwards, periodic reports must be submitted whenever the Committee so requests. Regarding the examination of these reports, the Committee does not have rules on the number of reports to be examined each session, but this can vary from four to six reports. Furthermore, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other members of civil society have increasingly played a prominent role in the reporting process, including in the compilation of a report.
The lists of issues prior to reporting (LOIPR) are a new and integral part of the reporting procedure, whereby the committee sends State parties a list of crucial issues regarding its implementation of the Covenant and considers their written replies in lieu of a periodic report (a so-called “focused report based on replies to a list of issues”). In other words, the state’s answer would constitute the report for the purposes of Article 40 of the Covenant. Stakeholders, in particular NHRIs and NGOs, are given the chance to provide the Committee with relevant input and questions for the State party prior to the drafting and adoption of these LOIPRs.
This is the second session in which the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) makes contributions to the Committee. Besides, since its establishment, SCM has always contributed to all United Nations mechanisms. Over the course of 16 years, SCM has consistently and continuously submitted complaints to more than seven special rapporteurs for dozens of cases. It has also provided several shadow and/or parallel reports, as well as oral and written interventions to all Human Rights Council sessions since the center obtained its consultative status with the Economic and Social Council in 2011. Moreover, ever since the administrative members of the center moved from Syria, all these contributions have become public and have been uploaded on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Contribution of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression:
So, as part of its long-standing contributions and in relation to the 130th session of the CCPR Committee (12 Oct 2020 – 06 Nov 2020), the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) has contributed to the submitting of 3 reports for Syria’s LOIPR: one independently submitted by the center, one co-submitted with Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and one signed by SCM and more than 10 other NGOs.
- SCM’s Individual Submission:
SCM’s individual submission is based on the monitoring and documentation of the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), in addition to information gained from the victims and their families to ensure reliability, accuracy and comprehensiveness. The submission showcases the Syrian government’s widespread and systematic human rights violations committed against the Syrian people as a whole, within the legal framework of international human rights law. Among the various rights stipulated in the ICCPR, SCM focuses on violations of the right to life, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment in Syrian prisons and detention centres, the right to liberty and security of persons, treatment of detainees, freedom of movement, the right to a fair trial, and non-discrimination and rights of persons belonging to minorities. Importantly, it also sheds light on women’s rights and the state of emergency.
In each of the various sections of the report, SCM asks the Syrian government pertinent questions and includes urgent requests. For example, regarding the rights of minorities, SCM calls on the government to provide information and statistics on all measures taken by the Syrian government to safeguard the rights of the Kurdish community. In other sections, it puts into question the measures taken to ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and those taken to improve prison conditions. SCM also calls on the Syrian government to provide accurate statistics and facts regarding various issues such as death sentences and numbers of detainees and killings due to excessive force, to name a few.
The full text can be found here.
- SCM-RSF Submission:
SCM’s joint submission with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) concerns other specific cases of violations by the Syrian government, such as the dangers faced by journalists due to bombardments in Idlib and their intimidation and targeting in state-controlled areas. Even Syrian journalists abroad are harassed by pro-government activists, such as in Malaysia. Death under torture in military detention and suppression of COVID-19 coverage are also pertinent topics discussed in the joint SCM-RSF report.
The Case of Wissam al-Tair:
In the report jointly submitted by SCM and Reporters without Borders, and in the section dedicated to the “growing intimidation and targeting of journalists in government-controlled areas,” Wissam al-Tair’s profession is not distinctly mentioned. Instead, the following is mentioned: “The most emblematic case is that of Wissam Al-Tair, the editor of Damascus Now, the most influential pro-government media outlet on Facebook (close to the Presidency), with more than 2.7 million followers.”
The case of Al-Tair has been mentioned in the first place to assert that terrorist activity done by government forces encompasses and targets all workers in the media in areas under Syrian government control. This includes even the closest to the government and its institutions, and those working under their permission and supervision. This goes against the government’s claim that it is fighting what it calls ‘terrorists’ only, or that it is controlling journalists who enter or work in the areas under its control without the permission or agreement of the government.
The recommendations mentioned in the SCM-RSF report include:
- Immediately release jailed and forcibly disappeared journalists and media workers and publicly disclose the fate of those arrested.
- Immediately allow the International, Independent, Neutral, and Special Committee to the Syrian Arab Republic (IIIM), the Commission of Inquiry (COI) and the International Red Cross to enter Syria, visit secret and public places of detention, and interview detainees from the media and detainees of freedom of opinion and expression.
- Revoke/amend all legislations and decrees that suppress freedom of expression and freedom in media, including those governing electronic media.
You can find the full text here.
- Submission by SCM and a group of other NGOs:
Finally, the third report, which was submitted by more than 10 NGOs including SCM sheds light on the various violations against women’s rights in Syria, as women have increasingly suffered from sexual and gender-based violence since the start of the Syrian conflict, whether that be under torture in detention centers, due to domestic violence in government-controlled areas, or harrassment of female journalists, to name a few. Crucially, the ways in which the Syrian nationality law, personal status law, and penal code discriminate against women are also discussed. Torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention perpetrated by the Syrian government and its affiliated forces are additional staples of the report.
The report also concludes by posing several questions to the Syrian government, such as:
- What steps has the Government of Syria taken to put a stop to and prevent future violations of women’s rights (under Article 6, 7, and 9 of the ICCPR) by its agents and affiliated militias?
- What concrete steps has it taken to protect women against domestic violence and workplace harassment, to raise the level of participation of Syrian women in the public life, and to amend its discriminatory laws, including those that provide impunity for perpetrators?
- What is the national framework, applied as a matter of policy and law, by the government in the interrogation and treatment of female detainees?
This submission was prepared by the Syrian Legal Development Programme (SLDP) and other organizations and endorsed by SCM; you can find the full text here.