Syria treatment of Kurds "unacceptable" -UN official
07 Sep 2010
* 300,000 Kurds left stateless by old census
* Kurds mainly live in east, impoverished by drought
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Syria's denial of citizenship rights to its Kurdish minority is "unacceptable" and the government should improve their treatment to help build national unity, a high-level U.N. human rights official said on Tuesday.
In a rare visit to Syria, U.N. Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter issued a report examining human rights in a country which has been in a state of emergency since the Baath party came to power in 1963. The report said authorities should do more for victims of a drought that has impoverished much of the country's east.
The area is populated by a mix of Arabs and Kurds, including up to 300,000 Kurds who are stateless as a result of an old census that denied them Syrian nationality.
"They cannot travel abroad. They have no access to public employment and are discriminated in access to health and education," Schutter told reporters in Damascus.
"This is unacceptable. Thought must be given to recognising that these people have a right to Syrian nationality. It is not the official position of the government but I think that it will be a way to create unity," he added.
Several Kurdish politicians who have raised the nationality issue have been sentenced to long jail terms.
No Syrian officials were immediately available for comment. Officials have in the past promised to look into the situation, saying there is no discrimination against Kurds.
The east, home to most of the Kurds that make up 10-15 percent of the population, has suffered from drought since 2005. Schutter's report said 800,000 people in the region were severely hit by the drought and living in extreme poverty.
"They should be benefiting from much higher level of support than is now provided by the Syrian government," Schutter said, adding that small farmers and herders lost 80-85 percent of their livestock since 2005.
Up to 50,000 families have fled the eastern region due to the drought, which has been worsened by illegal digging of ground wells that depleted the water table. The region produces all of Syria's modest output of 375,000 barrels of oil per day.
The state has a duty to help them under the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the report said.
Education, agriculture as well as the social safety also need improvement. The report said the Syrian government was overwhelmed by the enormity of the crisis but it still needed to gather more information about its extent.
"How could you sow your fields when your children are starving?" Schutter said.
(Editing by Peter Graff)