UN rights head warns of ‘civil war’ in Syria

International community urged to take immediate action as UN’s estimated death toll since protests began exceeds 3,000.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Navi Pillay
Syrians have been protesting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government since March this year [EPA]

The number of people killed in Syria in violence related to protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government has now reached more than 3,000, the United Nations human rights chief has said, as she has called for “the international community to take immediate measures to protect the Syrian people”.

Navi Pillay, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, expressed her deep dismay at the “remorseless toll of human lives”, according to a statement released from the body’s head office in Geneva on Friday.

“The number of people killed since the violence started in March has now exceeded 3,000, including at least 187 children. More than 100 people have been reported killed in the last 10 days alone,” she said.

“In addition, thousands have been arrested, detained, forcibly disappeared and tortured. Family members inside and outside the country have been targeted for harassment, intimidation, threats and beatings.

“As more members of the military refuse to attack civilians and change sides, the crisis is already showing worrying signs of descending into an armed struggle.”

“The Government of Syria has manifestly failed to protect its population. Furthermore, it has ignored the international community’s calls to co-operate with international investigations,” the UN human rights chief said.

Meanwhile, activists said at least 9 people were killed in demonstrations across the country on Friday and that the number was expected to rise, Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin reported from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon.

“The demonstrations spread from Dera’a in the south to the central part of the country in Homs, in Idlib, and to the eastern part in Deir Azzour,” Amin said.

“The slogans today were of course, the toppling of the regime, a call on Syrian officers and soldiers to refuse orders to shoot and a call on international community to provide help and to provide protection for civilians.”

International action

Pillay said that the international community must take “protective action in a collective and decisive manner”, before the violence drives Syria into “a full-blown civil war”.

“Sniping from rooftops, and indiscriminate use of force against peaceful protesters – including the use of live
ammunition and the shelling of residential neighbourhoods – have become routine occurrences in many Syrian cities,” Pillay said.

Such call by the UN human rights commissioner “will mean very good news for the [Syrian] people, because it will add pressure on the international community to do something,” but it is unclear what exactly they expect the world to do, our correspondent Rula Amin said.

Some say they do want military intervention and even welcome it because of the intensity to which Assad has cracked down on the population with violence, Amin said.

“They’re talking about no fly zones, to stop the Syrian military and the government from using planes and tanks.”

However, one member of the coalition of opposition groups, said the struggle against the Assad regime must remain peaceful.

“There is a pull by some people to take the country towards armed resistance, [but] most people disagree,” said Louay Safi, the chair of the political office of the Syrian National Council (SNC).

“The council itself believe the best option it to have unarmed resistance – a peaceful resistance.”

“We should avoid civil war at all costs and we believe the regime will fall if the people continue opposing it and the world stops giving support [to the government] from the outside,” Safi added.

Arab League

Arab League foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the ongoing unrest in protest-hit Syria, Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh said.

The meeting will “apparently look into what measures they can take against the Syrian regime, after it has refused all recommendations put forward by the League in their last meeting on Syria” … including a list of political reforms and dispatching a fact-finding mission from the League, an Arab League source said, according to Rageh.

The 22-member Arab League has not yet approved the request but such meetings need only the approval of two members to take place.

Six member states of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) called for such a  meeting on Thursday, demanding on the need address “the situation in Syria, which has deteriorated sharply, particularly in its humanitarian dimensions, and steps that could help end the bloodshed and halt the machine of violence”.

In a meeting on September 13, Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo and called on the Syrian authorities to “immediately stop the bloodshed,” drawing a testy response from Damascus.

Nabil al-Arabi, the Arab League chief, had met Assad three days earlier and presented him with a 13-point document outlining Arab proposals for reform.

Source: Al Jazeera