The United Nations human rights chief said today that she is “appalled” at the recent escalation of violence in Syria and called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the fighting and assist civilians.
As the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva began an urgent debate on Syria, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reported on a “rapidly deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation” in which civilians continue to bear the brunt of the Government’s crackdown against the popular uprising that began last March.
The latest assault that began earlier this month has reportedly led to hundreds of deaths and hospitals are struggling to cope with all those injured in recent weeks, she told the meeting, describing an increasingly “dire” humanitarian situation for the civilian population.
“There must be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the fighting and bombardments,” she stated.
Ms. Pillay called on the Syrian authorities to cooperate fully with international mechanisms, including with Kofi Annan, the recently appointed Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the Arab League for the crisis in Syria. Mr. Annan arrives in New York tomorrow to begin talks with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
She also called on the Government to allow independent international monitors to visit all places of detention and grant unhindered access to humanitarian actors; to release all political prisoners and persons who have been arbitrarily detained; and to launch prompt, independent and impartial investigations to end impunity, ensure accountability and bring perpetrators to justice.
She noted that the Government has cooperated to some extent to address the situation, such as the access provided to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Arab League observer mission to prisons and detention facilities, as well as the release of thousands of individuals who were detained in the context of the recent events in Syria.
“However, these steps pale into insignificance in the face of the continuing onslaught of violence and arrest against people by State actors,” said the High Commissioner, reiterating her position that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“What is urgently needed today is for the killings to stop. For that to happen the international community must unite in sending a clear message to the Syrian authorities and the Security Council must assume its responsibility to protect the population of Syria,” she stated.
“More than at any other time, those committing atrocities in Syria have to understand that the international community will not stand by and watch this carnage and that their decisions and the actions they take today ultimately will not go unpunished.”
General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser echoed Ms. Pillay’s comments, stating that the international community must increase its mobilization.
“The Syrian authorities must immediately end the killings and halt all human rights violations. All parties in Syria must immediately stop all violence and reprisals,” he added.
Mr. Al-Nasser urged all Member States to cooperate with Mr. Annan, adding that he was encouraged that the newly-appointed Special Envoy has started to engage quickly with all relevant parties within and outside Syria to end the violence and the humanitarian crisis, and to facilitate a peaceful, Syrian-led and inclusive political solution.
Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui of Syria denounced the holding of the meeting, saying that it was part of a plan to attack his country under the pretext of addressing humanitarian needs. Before walking out of the meeting, he said the real aim of the “sterile discussion” was to fuel terrorism and fuel the crisis in his country.
Meanwhile in New York, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council that the Syrian Government has manifestly failed to carry out its responsibility to protect its people, killing its own people in ways “reminiscent of the Hama massacre perpetrated by the Syrian Government in 1982.”
“Unfortunately, the international community has also failed in its duty to stop the carnage, and actions and inactions to date have seemed to encourage the regime in its belief that it has impunity to carry on wanton destruction of its own civilians,” said Mr. Pascoe.
He noted that the humanitarian consequences of the violence have become “severe,” as the attacks on neighbourhoods in the city of Homs continue now for a fourth week, and added that UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos is in the region and stands ready to go to Damascus as soon as she is allowed entry into the country.
The uprising in Syria is part of a broader popular protest movement that has swept North Africa and the Middle East since the start of last year and toppled long-standing regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen.