U.N. rights council ignores Syria, focuses on Kiribati & Tuvalu

Testimony by UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer delivered before the UN Human Rights Council, September 11, 2013, during interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteurs.

I thank the Special Rapporteur on safe drinking water for her reports on Kiribati and Tuvalu, whose challenges are worthy of international support.

Madam Rapporteur, we would like to ask if you would also be prepared to examine the humanitarian catastrophe now taking place in Syria.

According to UNICEF, 10 million people — close to half the population — lack secure access to safe water. Supplies of chlorine have fallen dangerously low, increasing tap water contamination. Access to sanitation and hygiene is deteriorating, threatening the health of much of the population.

Madam Rapporteur, UNICEF also reports that children are at particular risk of contracting diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases.  Power cuts, fuel shortages and damage to infrastructure cause worsening water shortages. In al-Qusayr, water was completely cut off in April when pro-government Hezbollah fighters took control of the local water plant.

Madam Rapporteur, as the expert on the Right to Water and Sanitation, is there any reason why the devastating water crisis in Syria is not in your report this year, nor in any of your previous reports? Have you requested to visit Syria, or nearby countries to hear testimony from refugees?

I see on your UN website that in the past few years you have issued 54 statements. Of these, only one dealt with Syria — a joint statement from two and a half years ago, which you signed with 6 other experts.

Madam Rapporteur, we appreciate your reports on the islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu. At the same time, one cannot help but note that the island of Kiribati has one of the smallest populations in the world —100,000 people. Tuvalu has even less: a total population of 10,000.

By any measure, Madam Rapporteur, these are among the tiniest places on the faces of the earth.

I therefore wish to ask you: by what logic and methodology should we be devoting the scarce and limited time and attention of this world body to the climate change challenges of Kiribati and Tuvalu—genuine and important as they are—instead of the life-and-death humanitarian crisis that is affecting the water, sanitation and health of millions of victims across Syria, and of millions of Syrian refugees in surrounding countries?

Three years into the massacre of over 100,000 people, why is it that we have heard only a handful of statements on Syria by all of this council’s human rights experts?

Three weeks after more than 1,000 people were gassed to death in Damascus, including 400 children, why has this Human Rights Council refused to convene a single emergency session or debate?

Will the Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances, from whom we just heard, consider addressing Syria’s stockpile of Sarin gas?

I don’t say this council is doing nothing. I know there will be a discussion on Monday, which was scheduled months ago. But where is the sense of urgency? Where is the outrage?

Thank you, Mr. President.

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