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Pillay urges Syria to halt its assault on its own people

GENEVA (9 June 2011) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday condemned the Syrian authorities’ unrelenting violent crackdown on peaceful protestors across the country, and called on the Government to respond to her repeated requests to allow a fact-finding mission to visit Syria, as required by the Human Rights Council.

She also expressed particular concern about reports of civilians fleeing the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour in the wake of recent threatening statements by Government officials.

“We are receiving an increasing number of alarming reports pointing to the Syrian Government’s continuing efforts to ruthlessly crush civilian protests,” Pillay said. “It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers,” she added. “I urge the Government to halt this assault on its own people’s most fundamental human rights.”

“NGOs and others are now reporting that the number of men, women and children killed since the protests began in March has exceeded 1,100, with up to 10,000 or more detained,” Pillay said. She noted that local human rights organizations had estimated that more than 50 protesters were killed during a huge protest in the city of Hama last Friday in what is believed to be one of the bloodiest days since the protests and killings began.

Saying that “bare statistics do not reveal the full extent of individual crimes and suffering,” Pillay referred to the case of Hamza al-Khatib, the 13-year-old boy, who was allegedly abducted and tortured to death by local security forces.

“The unimaginably cruel murder and mutilation of this child seems to be emblematic of the moral and legal bankruptcy of the apparent policy of crushing dissent by all available means,” the High Commissioner said.

Noting that the Syrian Government has disputed some of the reports of human rights violations, and has also claimed that its own forces have been targeted by armed groups, including allegations that 120 security personnel were killed by armed gangs in and around Jisr al-Shughour, she urged authorities to cooperate with her Office by granting access to Syria to a Fact-Finding Mission. The Mission was set up by the Human Rights Council in a Special Session on 29 April “to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law and establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated.”

The High Commissioner has repeatedly requested access for the Fact-Finding Mission to visit the country to undertake its investigation but has so far not received any response from the Syrian authorities.

“So far we have not received any official reply from Syria – either positive or negative,” Pillay said, adding that this would not prevent her team from issuing a preliminary report on the situation in Syria to the Human Rights Council on 15 June.
The High Commissioner also reminded Syria’s neighbours of the key international legal principle of non-refoulement (meaning that refugees must not be forcibly returned to their country of origin), and said that no one from Syria should be returned against their will in view of the current human rights situation.

“I urge states to keep their borders open for refugees fleeing Syria,” she said.

ENDS

OHCHR Country Page – Syrian Arab Republic http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/SYIndex.aspx

For more information or interviews, please contact spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or rcolville@ohchr.org ) or press officers: Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 or rshamdasani@ohchr.org ) or Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 or xcelaya@ohchr.org )

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