UN human rights experts welcome release of Syrian human rights defenders

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Commission of inquiry on Syria. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Commission of inquiry on Syria. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Syria, 14 August 2015 – Welcoming recent release of three human rights defenders from Syrian Government custody, the head of a United Nations-appointed human rights panel today urged the authorities to grant an independent organization regular access to those allegedly detained.

“The release of the three human rights defenders is something to be welcomed,” said Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, stressing that “in Syria, where a culture of impunity has taken hold, such good news is all too rare.”

Hussein Ghrer, Hani Al-Zaytani and Mazen Darwish, former employees at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, had been arrested and imprisoned by the Syrian Government since February 2012.

According to the Commission, the three men were charged with “publicizing terrorist acts” and “promoting terrorist activities” in March 2014.

“Many of these detainees have been held for long periods without charge or without trial, and are often not permitted contact with their families or their lawyers,” said Mr. Pinheiro.

Like many other human rights defenders and peace activists, these three advocates were charged under Article 8 of the Syria’s 2012 Counter-Terrorism legislation, which prescribes imprisonment and forced labour for a variety of vaguely defined terrorism-related offenses that include distributing written materials or information.

“We repeat our call upon the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic to allow an impartial, neutral and independent organization regular access to the thousands of persons reportedly in detention in the country,” underscored the UN rights expert.

The Commission, which also comprises Karen Koning AbuZayd, Carla del Ponte and Vitit Muntarbhorn, was established by the UN Human Rights Council in August 2011 to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law during the Syria conflict.