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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syria: UN senior official warns of legal consequences to human rights crimes

10 September 2012 – Violence against civilians caught in the Syrian conflict will not go unpunished, the United Nations human rights chief warned today, while also urging the Security Council to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Speaking at a side event during the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Navi Pillay, voiced concern over continuing reports of gross human rights violations in Syria, adding that the humanitarian situation across the country was also “deteriorating rapidly.”

“Thousands have been killed, thousands more injured. As we speak, civilians including children, are continuing to be injured and killed in Syria virtually every hour of every day,” Ms. Pillay said, noting that the conflict still appeared to have no end in sight.

“I urge all parties, in the strongest possible terms, to protect civilians from the on-going violence and to immediately cease acts of violence against civilians in violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” she added.

Syria has been wracked by violence since an uprising began against President Bashar al-Assad some 18 months ago. More than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since fighting broke out though reports indicate a major escalation of violence in recent weeks in many towns and villages, as well as the country’s two biggest cities, Aleppo and Damascus.

In her remarks, Ms. Pillay emphasized that more than 2.5 million people across the Middle Eastern country were being directly affected by the violence and were facing a deteriorating humanitarian situation.

In addition, she pointed to reports of Government forces using heavy weaponry in residential neighbourhoods and populated areas. She also noted that they had escalated their use of helicopters and fighter jets in indiscriminate attacks on urban areas where civilians were likely trapped in the upheaval.

The UN human rights chief said, however, that human rights violations were being perpetrated by both sides of the conflict and warned that both parties would ultimately face the legal consequences for their actions.

“Both Government forces and opposition forces deploy snipers who target civilians,” Ms. Pillay stated. “As time has passed, opposition forces have also been increasingly implicated in kidnappings and abductions, including of foreigners perceived as being government supporters.”

“Opposition forces should be under no illusion that they will be immune from prosecution,” she warned, adding that she was also reiterating her call for the Security Council to refer the human rights violations occurring in Syria to the ICC.

“A referral will make it abundantly clear to all actors in Syria that they will not escape justice and will be held accountable for alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” Ms. Pillay continued. “All wars come to an end at some point, but a sustainable peace will only be possible if accountability and justice prevail.”

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