Former Rights Expert on Burma Found Syria Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity
29 November 2011: A three-member United Nations Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by a former UN rights investigator for Burma has found Syria guilty of crime against humanity during the Arab nation’s 8-month long crackdown on peaceful protesters.
Professor Paulo Pinheiro, a Brazilian legal expert, served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation on Human Rights in Burma from 2000 to 2008. He was the longest-serving UN rights expert on Burma since the mandate was instituted in 1992.
The findings of the Commission of Inquiry into Syria’s alleged human rights violations were presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday in Geneva. The report said that Syrian security forces have committed crimes against humanity in different locations of the Arab Republic since the beginning of the protest in March 2011, which has seen the killing of over 3500 people according to the UN.
The 39-page report said Syria is guilty of “wrongful acts, including crimes against humanity, committed by members of its military and security forces.” The crimes include executions, torture, rapes and other violence against civilians.
The UN panel’s verdict comes at a time when fresh allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern and north-eastern Burma are being reported, where the Burma Army continues to engage in an 8-month long military campaign against the Kachin and Shan ethnic armed groups..
A new report released on Monday in Bangkok by aid group Partners in Relief Development documents harrowing accounts of serious human rights abuses in northern Burma, including extra-judicial killings and sexual violence against ethnic Shan and Kachin women committed by the Burma Army soldiers. It supports documentation by other human rights groups, such as the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) and the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), Which said that over 80 ethnic women have been raped with as many as 36 victims killed by the Burma Army.
In January 2011, US-based rights group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said it has evidence that Burma is guilty of Crimes against Humanity against ethnic Chins in the west of the country by subjecting the largely Christian population to forced labour and religious persecution. The report said that over 91 percent of Chin households were subject to forced labour between 2009 and 2010 by the Burmese authorities.
Pinheiro – who visited Burma seven times during his 8-year tenure as UN rights investigator on the Southeast Asian country – is one of the fiercest critics of the regime among the four Special Rapporteurs appointed to date.
In an Op-Ed to the New York Times in 2009, Professor Paulo Pinheiro had called for a UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry into crimes in Burma, arguing that the military regime will not punish those perpetrating crimes against ethnic minorities.
“Creating a commission of inquiry will accomplish three important goals: First, it will make the junta accountable for its crimes with a potential indictment by the International Criminal Court. Second, it will address the widespread culture of impunity in Burma. Third, it has the potential to deter future crimes against humanity in Myanmar.”
The Brazilian lawyer continued, “For two decades, ethnic minorities in Myanmar have suffered while our diplomatic efforts failed to bear fruit. The time has come for the Security Council to act.”
Tomas Ojea Quintana who succeeded Pinheiro as the fourth Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma agreed. In March 2010, Quintana called on the UN to consider the possibility of establishing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into crimes in violations of international laws committed in Burma.
Despite recent gestures of reforms by the nominally-civilian government in Naypyidaw, a total of 16 countries remain committed to supporting the institution of a UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry into possible commission of Crimes Agaist Humanity and War Crimes in Burma.