UN rights chief urges protection for Syrians

Navi Pillay wants country to be referred to the Hague-based ICC over Assad government’s alleged crimes against humanity.


The UN human rights chief has issued another appeal for the urgent protection of the Syrian people from the government’s crackdown.

Navi Pillay made the remarks at an emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in the Swiss city of Geneva on Friday.

She demanded the international community hold accountable the government of President Bashar al-Assad for crimes against humanity.

Reports of violence came in from Syria even as the rights body’s meeting was under way.

Activists reported that at least five people were killed by security forces following fresh protests after Friday’s Muslim noon prayers.

On the Syrian-Lebanese border, four Lebanese, including an 11-year-old girl, were wounded while fleeing gunfire coming from across the Syrian side, Lebanese security officials said.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from the border, said gunfire was heard in the area in the morning.

“A lot of gunfire [was] coming from the Syrian side towards the place where I am, Wadi Khaled, along the border with Syria in Lebanon,” our correspondent said.

In Geneva, the UN’s human rights chief said reports from Syria – including that 307 children have been killed since March – reinforced the need for the UN Security Council to submit the situation in the country to the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

“In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people,” Pillay said.

A draft resolution against the Syrian violence backed by African, European, Asian, Arab and American members of the 47-nation council calls for the establishment of a special investigator on Syria, but leaves open the issue of whether the more powerful Security Council should refer the country to the ICC.

‘Much higher’ toll

Pillay said on Thursday that the conflict in Syria looked like a civil war. “I have said that as soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms – I said this in August, before the Security Council – that there is going to be a civil war. And at the moment that’s how I’m characterising this,” she said.

She said her office had received reliable information that the death toll since the start of the eight-month uprising was now “much more” than 4,000.

Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage of army deserters who have joined the Free Syrian Army

In a separate development, the European Union tightened sanctions against Syria’s energy and financial sectors in response to Assad’s crackdown on dissidents.

The sanctions target “the energy, financial, banking and trade sectors and include the listing of additional individuals and entities that are involved in the violence or directly supporting the regime”.

Diplomats said the measures include bans on exporting gas and oil industry equipment to Syria, trading Syrian government bonds and selling software that could be used to monitor Internet and telephone communications.

They also added that 12 more individuals and 11 more entities to a blacklist of people and companies hit by assets freezes and travel bans over the government’s crackdown on protesters.

Syrian suspension

In response, Syria suspended its participation in the Mediterranean Union, state media said.

“Syria is suspending its membership in the Mediterranean Union in response to European measures taken against it,” a statement carried by the official SANA news agency said.

The Mediterranean Union, an initiative of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was inaugurated in 2008 to bolster co-operation between Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

The Arab League chief, Nabil el-Araby, rejected on Thursday any foreign intervention in Syria as he joined European Union talks aimed at ramping up pressure on Damascus.

“We reject any accusation that the Arab League is inviting any intervention,” el-Araby said.

“Every decision taken by the Arab League rejects an intervention,” he added, days after the pan-Arabic body imposed its own unprecedented sanctions against Assad’s government.

Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, had accused this week “some League members” of “pushing to internationalise the conflict”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies