UN council tells Assad to end violence

SYRIAN SITUATION::Russia and China were among the four nations that voted against the motion. Meanwhile, at least seven people were killed in Homs after a UN team’s visit


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 - Page 6

The UN’s top human rights body yesterday voted overwhelmingly to demand that Syria end its bloody crackdown and cooperate with an international probe into possible crimes against humanity.

The UN Human Rights Council voted 33-4 to condemn the violence by Syrian authorities — strongly underscoring the growing isolation within the international community of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — and dispatch a human rights team to probe alleged atrocities since March.

The countries voting in favor included all four Arab voting members of the council — Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Russia and China voted against, along with Cuba and Ecuador.

The remainder of the 47-nation council abstained or were absent.

In the face of sharp opposition from China, Russia and other nations deeply suspicious of international intervention in a country’s affairs, the resolution was heavily edited — and somewhat watered down — from its original language. The title “Grave human rights violations ...” became, for example, “The human rights situation ...” in Syria.

However, the resolution itself still had a bite. It said the council “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, also of children.”

It called on Syrian authorities to put an end to all human rights violations to protect their population and to fully comply with international human rights laws.

The council also decided to dispatch a team of human rights investigators “to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March” in Syria, particularly “those that may constitute crimes against humanity.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told meeting in Geneva that “the scale and nature of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity.”

She said some 2,200 people have died as a result of the government crackdown, with 350 reportedly killed since the start of Ramadan earlier this month.

China and Russia said they opposed the measure as unnecessary intervention. Chinese Ambassador He Yafei (何亞飛) said it “will only complicate the situation.”

Syrian Ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi called the action “100 percent political.” On Monday, he said his nation was “ready to receive” a UN inquiry within its borders sometime “in the near future,” as soon as Syrian authorities finish their own probe.

A UN humanitarian team has entered Syria to visit some of the main protest areas and assess needs for aid, but a high-level UN human rights team wasn’t able to enter for its report.

Meanwhile, security forces killed at least seven people in Homs following a visit by members of the UN humanitarian team, activists said yesterday.

Seven people died on Monday, four of them when troops opened fire to disperse anti-government protesters in Homs. The protesters had gathered in the city’s main square ahead of the arrival of the UN team.

Amateur videos posted by activists online showed crowds of people thronging several cars with the blue UN flag, flashing banners that read: “SOS” and “We will never stop until we get our freedom.” The protesters chanted for freedom and the downfall of the regime.

Residents and activists said it was quiet until the team left, after which troops opened fire to disperse the protest, killing four people. Three more were killed by gunmen elsewhere in Homs, which has become a hotbed of dissent against Assad.

The Local Coordination Committees and the London-based Observatory for Human Rights also reported that security forces stormed several villages in the southern and northern parts of the country, arresting scores yesterday.