UN rights chief urges Syria to end assault on its own people

Human Rights Council meets on Syria. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

9 June 2011 – The United Nations human rights chief today condemned the ongoing violent crackdown by Syrian authorities against peaceful protestors and called on the Government to respond to her repeated requests to allow a fact-finding mission to visit the country.

“We are receiving an increasing number of alarming reports pointing to the Syrian Government’s continuing efforts to ruthlessly crush civilian protests,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release.

“It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers,” she added. “I urge the Government to halt this assault on its own people’s most fundamental human rights.”

She noted that non-governmental organizations and others are now reporting that the number of men, women and children killed since the protests began in March has exceeded 1,100, with up to 10,000 or more detained.

Saying that “bare statistics do not reveal the full extent of individual crimes and suffering,” Ms. Pillay referred to the case of Hamza al-Khatib, the 13-year-old boy, who was allegedly abducted and tortured to death by local security forces.

“The unimaginably cruel murder and mutilation of this child seems to be emblematic of the moral and legal bankruptcy of the apparent policy of crushing dissent by all available means,” she stated.

Ms. Pillay also voiced particular concern about reports of civilians fleeing the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour in the wake of recent threatening statements by Government officials.

In a special session held in April, the UN Human Rights Council authorized a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law. Ms. Pillay urged the authorities to cooperate and to grant her team access to the country.

“So far we have not received any official reply from Syria – either positive or negative,” said Ms. Pillay, whose team is scheduled to issue a preliminary report on the situation in Syria to the Geneva-based Council on 15 June.

The High Commissioner also reminded neighbouring countries that no one from Syria should be returned against their will in view of the current human rights situation, and urged States to keep their borders open for refugees fleeing Syria.

Ms. Pillay’s comments come as the UN Security Council considers a draft resolution condemning the violence in Syria that was tabled yesterday but has not yet been acted on.

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today strongly appealed for calm and restraint after a number of Palestinian refugees in Syria lost their lives and had been injured in recent events, including in Yarmouk, which is home to a third of the Palestinian refugee community in Syria.

“UNRWA calls on all concerned to preserve the sanctity of human life as required by international law, to protect the safety and dignity of all, and to ensure that any further loss of civilian lives is avoided,” the Agency stated in a news release.

The protests in Syria are part of a broader uprising this year across North Africa and the Middle East that has already toppled the long-standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and led to ongoing conflict in Libya.


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