15 August 2001
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning started its consideration of the third periodic report of the Syrian Arab Republic by hearing a Government delegation say that the country upheld all human rights values and exercised tolerance, social solidarity and a broad-minded attitude. All citizens, as well as refugees, enjoyed their rights on an equal footing, without any discrimination.
Introducing the report, Toufik Salloum, Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Syrian Government deployed considerable efforts to accomplish its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, the country still suffered from the Israeli occupation which had obliged it to remain on a state of alert and, consequently to allocate a large part of its resources to national defense in the face of the Israeli enemy.
The report of the Syrian Arab Republic says that the Syrian Constitution, which was promulgated in 1973, guarantees basic human rights by, for example, recognizing personal freedom as a sacred right. There are no discriminatory distinctions, exceptions, restrictions or preferences in law or everyday relations between persons or groups. The report highlights that there are no homeless persons in Syria.
Committee members queried the delegation on a number of issues, including the independence of the judiciary, corruption, a national plan of action for human rights, religious instruction and the rights of women. Some Experts quoted sources who alleged that persistent discrimination existed against the Kurds and other minorities, and asked for more information in this regard.
Also included in the delegation of Syria were Abboud Sarraj, Dean of the Damascus Faculty of Law; and Ibrahim Ibrahim, Councillor at the Permanent Mission of Syria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Syrian Arab Republic is among the 145 States parties to the Covenant and as such it is obligated to present periodic reports on how it is implementing the provisions of the treaty.
When the Committee reconvenes this afternoon at 3 p.m., it will continue its consideration of the report of Syria.
Report of the Syrian Arab Republic
The third periodic report of the Syrian Arab Republic (document E/1994/104/Add.23) enumerates the various measures undertaken by the State in order to comply with the provisions of the Covenant. It says that the Syrian Constitution, which was promulgated in 1973, guarantees basic human rights by, for example, recognizing personal freedom as a sacred right. There are no discriminatory distinctions, exceptions, restrictions or preferences in law or everyday relations between persons or groups.
The report notes that the aim of achieving full employment is being impeded by various difficulties, particularly by the circumstances of the Israeli occupation which has obliged Syria to allocate a large part of its resources to national defense. As a result, Syria has not been able to devote its full resources to development and to the provisions of appropriate employment opportunities for all persons who are willing to work, nor has it been able to achieve full employment of its labour force even though the State has always endeavoured, through its plans, to achieve that goal.
All citizens have access to free health services at the health centres and hospitals run by the State and popular organizations, associations and institutions operating in the field of social development. Further, the report says that through the implementation of socio-economic development plans, Syria has taken many measures to provide basic services for its citizens, to ensure improved and more appropriate living conditions for them and to curb the growing poverty rate. The report makes a reference to a regional symposium, held at Damascus in 1996 to discuss the elimination of poverty in Arab States, which was attended by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Lastly, the report highlights that there are no homeless persons in Syria.
Presentation of Report
TOUFIK SALLOUM, Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Syria guaranteed the rights enunciated in the Covenant without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language or religion. The country upheld all human rights values and exercised tolerance, social solidarity and a broad-minded attitude. All citizens, as well as refugees, enjoyed their rights on an equal footing, without any discrimination.
Mr. Salloum said that in each country, difficult circumstances occurred which impeded the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant. Syria deployed considerable efforts to accomplish its obligations under the Covenant, but the country still suffered from the Israeli occupation which had obliged Syria to remain on a state of alert and, consequently to allocate a large part of its resources to national defense in the face of the Israeli enemy.
The Permanent Representative said that Syria was a young country, 30 per cent of its population was undergoing various sorts of study, which required a significant number of schools and teachers. Education was a right enjoyed by every citizen of the country without any distinctions, and was free of charge from the primary level to the end of the university level. Four universities existed in Syria and a private one would be built soon. With regard to the extent to which human rights were incorporated in the academic curricula of schools and universities, he said that the general educational objectives of the country emphasized the importance of adopting an open-minded attitude, ensuring that education was conducive to the creation of a human society and that students were well informed about international instruments and institutions, contemporary trends and fundamental freedoms.
With regard to trade union rights, he said the General Federation of Trade Unions, which was a national trade union grouping, was independent of the Government. Strike actions were not prohibited by the Syrian Constitution and had been held in private and public sectors. Mr. Salloum said that strike action, although rare, existed but did not usually take the form of violent or long-lasting confrontations.
Lastly, the Permanent Representative said that the family role in the society had been strengthened. Women and men had equal right to work, but pregnant women were particularly protected, as well as children. For example, employers could not ask women to do work which was harmful to their health, and a working woman was entitled to maternity leave.
Responding to a question by an Expert, the delegation said that in Syria, the judiciary was completely independent from the executive power and protected the rights enshrined in the Covenant. The allegations of judgments handed down for political reasons were untrue and enunciated to put Syria in an uncomfortable position regarding the international community. The only exception to the independence principle was the High Court, but nonetheless, it respected the rules provided in the penal code and the rights of the defendant. The provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights could be invoked in Syrian courts.
Asked about corruption, the delegation said that these practises did not only exist in Syria but also elsewhere in the world. Corruption in Syria was no different from corruption in other countries. The accusations of significant cases of corruption in Syria were exaggerated and did not take into account the reality of the situation.
Numerous experts repeated that corruption was reported to be a problem in Syria and was considered as a normal behaviour. The Syrian Government should not deny this but should try to eradicate it.
Asked if the State party had considered developing a national plan of action for human rights, in accordance with paragraph 71 of the 1993 Vienna Declaration, the delegation said that the Syrian Constitution provided wide spread protection for human rights. No national plan of action specifically related to human rights was envisioned. However, the delegation said that Syria entirely supported international institutions for human rights and was systematically present at every international workshop or conference related to human rights. Syria did its utmost to implement all recommendations stemming from these international conferences, but this required time and important preparatory work.
With regard to religion, the delegation said religious instruction covered the cognitive and value-related aspects of human rights in accordance with the students' stage of development from the first academic grade to the end of the secondary level. The delegation specified that religious instruction was compulsory but each pupil followed instruction according to his own religion.
An Expert quoted various sources as alleging that persistent discrimination existed against the Kurds and other minorities, including those who were born in Syria and who considered themselves Syrian, particularly with regard to their nationality and culture. The Expert added that the cultural and civil rights of the Kurds, who represented approximately 1.5 million people, were flouted. Dozens of children had not been registered by the State since 1992 because they had Kurdish first names. The delegation responded that all Syrian citizens of Kurdish origin had all the rights and obligations of citizenship, like any other Syrian citizen, and many of them had been appointed to high-ranking official posts. Consequently, far from constituting a separate community suffering from discrimination, the Kurds were part of the fabric of Syrian society. The outcries that were heard concerning the prosecution of Syrians of Kurdish origin were based on unfounded and erroneous allegations attempting to generalize the specific situation of some Kurdish infiltrators from neighbouring States who entered the Syrian territory illegally due to the persecution and discrimination to which they were being subjected.
The delegation said that Syrian law protected and guaranteed the safety of refugees and immigrants, although the country had not ratified the Geneva Convention on Refugees. A refugee was considered to be any person who had been granted the right of asylum in Syria on political or humanitarian grounds after entering Syrian territory in a legal or illegal manner. The delegation recalled that Palestinian refugees enjoyed a special status that completely assimilated them as Syrian citizens.
Asked about equality between women and men, the delegation said that the Government had sought to overcome traditional discriminatory attitudes toward women and encouraged women's education. A legal study on accession by Syria to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was in the final stages. Moreover, since 1974, a wife could go to court and ask for divorce.
Responding to a question by an Expert, the delegation acknowledged that a difference existed between women and men regarding the minimum age to get married. A girl aged 13 could get married whereas a boy must be 15 years old. However, marriages concerning such young people were rare.
The delegation said it was untrue that the punishment for adultery for a woman was twice as severe as for the same crime committed by a man. Women generally were barred from travelling abroad with their children unless they are able to prove that the father had granted permission.
Asked about disabled persons, the delegation said that the problem of the disabled was one of the issues for which Syria had shown great concern. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour had established numerous institutions, schools and centres in order to cater for the welfare, education and rehabilitation of the various categories of disabled persons with a view to enabling them to utilize their remaining capacities and facilitating their social adaptation and integration.
In accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the State guaranteed social security for workers and undertook to provide for every citizen and his family in the event of an accident. However, although unemployment benefits, in accordance with article 9 of the International Covenant, were provided for in the Social Insurance Act, their payment had been suspended under the terms of a legislation enactment.
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