‘UN Commissioner report on Houla? But they only talk to Syrian opposition – by phone’

Jordanians and Syrian refugees take part in a demonstration against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, and to protest against the killing of at least 108 people in the Syrian town of Houla last Friday, outside the Syrian embassy in Amman May 30, 2012 (Reuters/Ali Jarekji)
The Houla Massacre is to be brought before a rare gathering of the UN Human Rights Council. But what kind of findings will be presented? Anti-war campaigner Marinella Corregia worries the HR commissioner talks only to its sources: the opposition.

The meeting, set for Friday, has been called by 21 of the 47 council members. The request was officially submitted by Qatar, Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Denmark and the EU.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hervé Ladsous said there are strong suspicions that pro-regime fighters are responsible for some of the 108 in Syria’s Houla massacre, and that heavy weapons were illegally fired by Syrian government forces. But he added "I cannot say we have absolute proof." Ladsous also told reporters he sees no reason to believe that "third elements" — outside forces — were involved in what was one of the bloodiest single events in Syria's 15-month-old uprising, though he did not rule this out.

It also appears that entire families were shot in their homes. Local residents have blamed the executions on Shabbiya, a paramilitary group that "essentially supports the government forces," says Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.

UN Human Rights Council ‘own’ sources?

What worries Marinella Corregia, an activist from the "No War Network," is the sources the UN Commissioner for Human Rights uses to draw their reports, as their opinions do not seem in accord with UN monitors’ prudence. General Robert Mood, who heads the observing mission, has not yet pointed to anyone for the killings.

Marinella Corregia called the spokesman for the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, to get some answers. This is the conversation they had as reported by the peace activist:

Marinella Corregia: Who spoke with the local people you quote? The UN observers?

Rupert Colville: The UN observers are another body.

MC: So which witness sources do you have and how did you speak with them?

RC: Our local network, whom we spoke on the phone. I cannot say more; I have to protect them.

MC: How could they recognize that the killers were Shabbiya? Weren’t their faces covered?

RC: Our local contacts in Syria say they were Shabbiya. Try to be less cynical.

MC: But no doubt from your side? It seems that many of the children were from Alawite pro-government families…

RC: We are asking for an investigation. I don’t say we are certain. We have also been asking for international investigations for the past months in Syria; but it has never been done and that is why we rely on our sources.

MC:  So it is not the UN that says that pro-government groups killed the children, it is your sources saying that.

RC: Yes, many people, our sources point the finger at the Shabbiya [militia group].

More questions than answers as Houla investigation continues

But who are these contacts? Corregia says that so far the UN Council on Human Rights used reports made up by their own commission of three envoys, working independently from UN monitors. The commission has never set foot on Syrian soil; their sources, as listed by the anti-war campaigner, appear to be: “the opposition groups [the UN Human Rights Council] spoke to on the phone; the opposition they met in Turkey; and other ‘activists’ they met in Geneva.”

So the bottom line: no actual witnesses!” points out Marinella Corregia, who is sure the body treats the Houla incident “just the same way.”

Houla reports filed so far stand no criticism, continues the activist, – instead of giving answers, they just raise more questions:

Who talked to the residents, since the UN Human Rights Council is in Geneva? Are they true residents or the ones like the face-covered lady interviewed by Al Jazeera? The ‘survivor’ in question says she was hiding as her children were being slaughtered – how is it possible that a mother hides at a moment like this?

How was it possible that immediately after “Shabbiya” and the “army’s artillery” accomplished the massacre people were not afraid to collect bodies, film them and then send the video to international media?

How could survivors identify Shabbiya militia if they say killers were masked? By ‘green military dress’?

Why does a video show that some dead children have their hands tied? Did the killers take time to tie the hands of the children before killing them? Or were the hands tied later by those who filmed the massacre in order to call for more blame if possible?”

Why does the man in the video, while showing the children and screaming ‘Allah Akbar!’, treat them with no respect, like puppets?”

“Why in one of the videos, showing the ‘government’ shelling, are people escaping carrying Syria’s flag, not the opposition’s one?”

“Is it true, as some sources say, that the majority of the people who were killed came from Alawites pro-government families or neutral Sunnis and some others from the opposition? Is it also true that the people were shouting pro-Assad slogans?”

UN Human Rights Council’s rulings mostly adds political weight to the efforts taken by other UN’s bodies, notably the UN Security Council. The Security Council – and prior to it the UN monitors in Syria – is yet to deliberate a final opinion who is responsible for the Houla massacre. But some political leaders seem to know their answer: Syrian diplomats have already been expelled from the US, the UK, France, Germany and other countries across the world.