New Internationalist

A ‘strategic silence’ on Syria – to the Philippines’ shame

The Philippines’ chair was empty – and it was reportedly the only empty chair at the UN Human Rights Council’s 1 June meeting to discuss atrocities in war-torn Syria.

The UN human rights body was meeting to vote on a draft resolution condemning a massacre that killed over 100 civilians in Syria, including women and children.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the decision to leave an empty chair at the UN during a crucial time was ‘reprehensible’, but Philippine government officials said the country was maintaining a ‘strategic silence’ on the issue for the sake of the safety of Filipinos in Syria.

However, Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Carlos Conde, as quoted by local newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, said the wish to protect Filipino workers in Syria did not have to prevent the Philippines from attending the council meeting: the country could simply have abstained from voting on the council resolution if its foreign policy so dictated.

‘What is reprehensible is for a member state of the Human Rights Council to leave an empty chair. The 1 June session focused on the killing of more than 100 innocent civilians, including children, and the Philippines didn’t even take the time to participate in discussions and the vote on the killings,’ the Inquirer quoted Conde as saying.

Conde said the Philippine government should realize that Filipinos in Syria face greater risks if the situation in the area worsens.

‘We think the Philippines is creating a false choice between doing what’s best to protect the Filipino workers and helping to end the human rights crisis in Syria. The Human Rights Council is one avenue for trying to prevent that downslide and the Philippines should be working with other countries to end the atrocities. Virtually all the Human Rights Council members supported the 1 June Resolution denouncing Syria,’ he said.

As news reports from war-torn Syria show, the situation is worsening, and keeping quiet should no longer be a choice.

On 11 June, the Daily Star reported that the Syrian army killed at least 35 people in central Homs in the latest bombardment in rebel areas.

Activists are turning to the international community for decisive action in pressuring the regime to stop the killings.

Should inaction from the international community and ‘strategic silence’ continue, how many more innocent lives – men, women and children – will be sacrificed?

Photo of the Human Rights Council by US Mission Geneva under a CC Licence.

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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at

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