UN rights boss warns of possible civil war in Syria

United Nations's Pillay calls for international action to protect Syrian civilians, says gov't repression of protesters could lead to civil war.

October 14, 2011 11:28
2 minute read.
Anti-Assad protesters in Syria

Syria rallies 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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GENEVA - The United Nations top human rights official called on Friday for international action to protect Syria's civilians, saying its "ruthless repression" of anti-government protesters could drive the country into full-blown civil war.

The death toll in the pro-democracy demonstrations that began in March against President Bashar Assad now exceeds 3,000, including at least 187 children, Navi Pillay said in a statement. At least 100 people had been killed in the last 10 days alone.

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"The onus is on all members of the international community to take protective action in a collective manner, before the continual ruthless repression and killings drive the country into a full-blown civil war," Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, said.

"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," she added.

Asked what kind of international action should be taken, her spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing: "That obviously is for states to decide. What has been done so far is not producing results and people continue to be killed virtually every single day."

Pressed on whether foreign military action should be taken, as in Libya against the forces of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, Colville said: "That would be for the Security Council to say."

A preliminary UN rights investigation in August reported credible allegations of crimes against humanity in Syria, including executions. The team said it had evidence against 50 suspects whose names are on a confidential list.

Pillay at the time encouraged the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecutions for crimes against humanity.

At least 20 people were killed in renewed fighting in Syria on Thursday, an activist group said, and the European Union imposed sanctions on the country's biggest state bank which bankers say holds much of the country's foreign reserves.

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

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