UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hit back on Friday at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s attacks on the world body, while his human rights chief said lives could have been saved if the UN Security Council had acted earlier over the Syria crackdown.
Ban and UN rights chief Navi Pillay gave a stern response to Assad’s outspoken dismissal of the UN this week. They said that claims of more than 4,000 dead in the assault on protesters were “very credible” and that Assad should let UN investigators into the country.
Ban told reporters during a trip to Kenya that he could not believe that fewer than 4,000 people had been killed, as Assad claims.
“All the credible information is that more than 4,000 people have been killed by the government forces. The high commissioner for human rights has made it already clear through all the various sources, very credible sources,” Ban said.
In an interview with US television this week, Assad dismissed the UN death toll and only said that 1,100 soldiers and police had been killed. He denied any responsibility for the government crackdown.
“Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?” Assad asked.
Ban responded that human rights violations in Syria have been dealt with “on a very impartial, fair, objective and credible basis.”
Pillay said more than 220 witnesses had been interviewed by UN human rights commissioners whose report was rubbished by Assad.
“It is first-hand witness accounts, a great deal of information coming via Skype from inside the country,” Pillay told a press conference at the UN headquarters. “Really, it is not good enough for the president of Syria to simply brush all this aside with the unsupported assertion that the United Nations is not credible.”
European members of the UN Security Council have asked Pillay to brief the 15-nation body next week. Diplomats said “heated” talks on the proposal were held on Friday.
Russia and China vetoed a resolution condemning the Syria violence in October and there has been little discussion since.
Pillay said the last time she discussed Syria at the council in August, more than 2,000 were dead.
“Now it is more than 4,000. Lives could have been changed if action had been taken sooner. It is not for me to determine what kind of action, it is for the Security Council,” she said.
Assad refused to let two UN human rights department inquiries into Syria.
“I think it is very important he does though, especially if he is under the impression that the UN and the information it provides is not credible,” Pillay said.
Describing some of the evidence shown to the UN, Pillay said one Syrian father had shown UN investigators pictures of how his 14-year-old son “had been tortured and then killed.”
“This is what we would present to President Assad as it does not fit the picture as he describes it. Somebody is killing innocent protesters there and we need to establish who,” Pillay said.