GENEVA, Switzerland — Western powers lined up at the United Nations on Monday to slam Syria’s human rights record, branding its treatment of its own citizens “appalling.”
The United States, Britain, France, and others condemned President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as Syria had its performance reviewed before the UN Human Rights Council.
Syria, for its part, insisted that “foreign occupation” in parts of the country in support of “armed terrorist groups” had had a “catastrophic impact” on rights.
This has “limited the state’s ability to take up its role as the guardian of citizens’ human rights,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Bashar Jaafari told the council in Geneva.
All countries undergo a so-called universal periodic review of their human rights record before the council every few years.
The war in Syria, which started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, has left close to half a million people dead and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II.
“The Syrian regime’s treatment of its people is simply appalling,” British ambassador Simon Manley told the council. “We strongly condemn its attacks on civilians and infrastructure. The use of starvation and siege warfare in opposition-held areas is deplorable.”
France’s ambassador Jerome Bonnafont said: “The situation in Syria has, for more than a decade, been marked by systematic, massive and constant violations of human rights.
“These unacceptable violations must stop and their perpetrators must be held accountable,” he said, with Assad’s regime bearing “primary responsibility.”
The United States urged Syria to “cease violence against civilians,” allow unhindered humanitarian access, and stop “egregious abuse against prisoners.”
“We call for an immediate end to all violations and abuses by the Assad regime,” US Ambassador Sheba Crocker said.
Turkey and its proxies have seized control of territory inside Syria over the course of several military operations launched since 2016.
Turkey’s representative Muzaffer Uyav Gultekin accused Syria of trying to “distort reality” at the council and urged it to “stop collaborating with terrorist organizations.”
Damascus did have support from some countries.
Belarus representative Andrei Taranda said Minsk took a “positive view of the progress” in Syria, saying Damascus’s efforts to promote the rights of its citizens “merit full praise.”
North Korea’s representative meanwhile commended Damascus for its “continued exertion for the promotion and protection of the human rights of its people.”
China urged the international community to respect Syria’s sovereignty and “respect the people’s choice.”
“Instigating confrontation and imposing sanctions do not solve problems,” it said, spurring Damascus to “combat terrorism so that the Syrian people can enjoy human rights in a safe environment.”