UN rights boss Pillay calls on Syria to halt 'assault'

By REUTERS
June 9, 2011 12:18

Germany and Portugal join UK and France in a move censuring Assad's crackdown on protesters; resolution faces a potential Russian veto.

4 minute read.



Assad

Assad 311 reuters. (photo credit: reuters)

GENEVA - The top UN human rights official called on Syria on Thursday to halt its "assault on its own people" and said that more than 1,100 people may have been killed and up to 10,000 detained since March.

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also urged Damascus to allow her fact-finding mission into the country to investigate all allegations, including the killing of 120 members of the security forces by armed gangs.

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"It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers," she said in a statement. "I urge the Government to halt this assault on its own people's most fundamental human rights."

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal handed the UN Security Council a draft resolution on Wednesday condemning Syria's crackdown on protesters, despite the risk of a Russian veto.

The UN ambassadors of the four European Union countries told reporters they presented the draft at a council meeting at which the 15-nation body was briefed by a senior UN official on the unrest in Syria.

There was no vote on the latest draft resolution, which may be amended further. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the text had been revised to respond to developments in Syria and concerns raised by some council members.

"We hope that all members of the Security Council will be able to rally to it," Lyall Grant said. "We hope that it will get overwhelming support and that we will be able to go to the vote in the next few days."

Three months of popular unrest in Syria has cost more than 1,000 lives, according to human rights groups. French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the worsening situation made it necessary for the council to take a stand on the issue.

"Our concern is that the country could fall into a civil war," he said. "The council has to act."

Lyall Grant said negotiators would meet again to discuss the draft on Thursday morning. Several diplomats said there could be a vote on Friday.

The United States, which diplomats say has been reluctant to risk a Russian veto of a UN condemnation that Syrian President Bashar Assad will almost certainly ignore, is not a sponsor of the resolution. However, US Ambassador Susan Rice said Washington had offered its "strong support for that text."

Russia and China, which both hold vetoes, have made clear they dislike the idea of council involvement, which they say could help to destabilize a strategic Middle Eastern country.

Several diplomats told Reuters they expected Russia to veto the draft resolution, though others said they thought Moscow could be persuaded to abstain, in which case China would likely follow suit.

"I hear that the veto is inevitable," one diplomat said.

Resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes to pass. If Russia and China abstained, the draft would be adopted, even if Lebanon, South Africa, India and Brazil voted against it.

While Russia has long been an ally and key arms supplier to Syria, diplomats said the Russians made clear they did not want a repeat of the NATO intervention in Libya, which Moscow believes has spun out of control beyond the original UN mandate to protect civilians.

Without mentioning Russia, China and India by name, Rice dismissed the comparisons with Libya.

"We heard several council members, in some instances ... disingenuously, use Libya as an excuse, as a ploy to avoid the real issues that we are facing in Syria," Rice said.

In a challenge to Russia and Beijing, British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament in London, "If anyone votes against that resolution or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience."

Like an earlier draft first circulated to council members last month, the latest text urges countries not to supply weapons to Damascus but does not provide for an actual arms embargo or other specific punitive measures.

The draft, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, condemns "systematic" human rights violations by Syrian authorities and says they may amount to crimes against humanity. But it also denounces violence against security forces.

One diplomat said the new amendments attempted to make the resolution look less like a prelude to further action such as the military intervention that NATO has conducted in Libya.

In particular, a new clause says that "the only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process."

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin gave no hints as to whether or not he planned to veto the draft resolution.

"Things are being crossed out (in the text)," he said as he entered the council chambers. "I need to see a clean copy."


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