UN rights chief reminds world leaders of their 'responsibility to protect' Syrian people
8 February 2012 – The United Nations human rights chief today urged the international community to protect civilians in Syria, stating that the Security Council’s failure to agree on collective action seems to have fuelled the Government’s readiness to massacre its own people.
According to local sources, as well as independent media reports from inside the city of Homs, the Syrian army has sharply increased the use of tanks, helicopters, mortars, rockets and artillery fire to attack civilian areas, stated a news release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“I am appalled by the Syrian Government’s wilful assault on Homs, and its use of artillery and other heavy weaponry in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas in the city,” said High Commissioner Navi Pillay.
She stressed the “extreme urgency for the international community to cut through the politics and take effective action to protect the Syrian population.”
The assault on Homs by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces is the latest move in the ongoing crackdown against a popular uprising that emerged early last year as part of the wider pro-democracy and reform movement across North Africa and the Middle East.
On Saturday, the Security Council failed to agree on a resolution backing an Arab League plan to resolve the crisis in Syria, where the UN estimates that over 5,000 civilians, including hundreds of children, have been killed since March 2011.
“The failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appears to have fuelled the Syrian Government’s readiness to massacre its own people in an effort to crush dissent,” stated Ms. Pillay.
“In addition to the continuing widespread human rights abuses, I fear the humanitarian situation has significantly deteriorated in many parts of the country in recent months, and especially in Homs, where parts of the city have been largely cut off or encircled for long periods,” she said.
The High Commissioner said that in the past 11 months, thousands of Syrian protestors and civilians have been killed, injured, detained, tortured and forcibly disappeared.
“All evidence points to the involvement of the Syrian army and security forces in the perpetration of most of these crimes,” stated Ms. Pillay. “In light of their nature and scale, they may constitute crimes against humanity, punishable under international law.
“Those in command should, however, remember that there is no statute of limitations for serious international crimes, and there will be a sustained effort for as long as it takes to bring justice to all those who have been victims of the gross and systematic crimes taking place in Syria today.”
Ms. Pillay recalled the principle of the ‘responsibility to protect’ agreed to by world leaders at a summit in 2005, whereby the international community as a whole has the responsibility to step in with collective, timely and decisive action when a State is failing to protect its population from serious international crimes.
“The virtual carte blanche now granted to the Syrian Government betrays the spirit and the word of this unanimous decision. It is depriving the population of the protection they so urgently need,” she stated.
An OHCHR fact-finding mission and an independent Commission of Inquiry that investigated the violations in Syria concluded that crimes against humanity may have been committed since mid-March 2011.
The High Commissioner had on several occasions last year encouraged the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
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