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Pillay urges greater attention to atrocities in Syria, warns of threat to Qusayr

GENEVA (10 May 2013) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday that reports of massacres allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces and pro-government militias in recent days should spur the international community to act to find a solution to the conflict and to ensure those responsible for serious human rights violations are made to account for their crimes.

She also expressed alarm at reports of a major military build-up around the western Syrian town of Qusayr, saying she feared further atrocities if the area was overrun.

“I am appalled at the apparent killing of women, children and men in the village of al-Bayda, and possibly elsewhere in the Baniyas area, which seem to indicate a campaign targeting specific communities perceived to be supportive of the opposition,” Pillay said.

Harrowing images of piles of bloodied and burned bodies, including of small children and babies, have been emerging -- allegedly taken after government forces and militia overran al-Bayda and other parts of Baniyas last week.

“These images, if verified, indicate a complete lack of regard for the lives of civilians,” the High Commissioner said. “There needs to be a careful investigation of each and every incident like this. We should not reach the point in this conflict where people become numb to the atrocious killing of civilians.”

She renewed her plea that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“I believe that serious human rights violations and other acts amounting to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity have been committed. We must make it clear to both the government and the armed opposition groups that there will be clear consequences for the people responsible for these crimes” the High Commissioner said.

Pillay welcomed the agreement this week by Russia and the US to work towards convening an international conference to find a political solution to the conflict. “The increasingly brutal nature of the conflict makes international efforts to halt the bloodshed imperative,” she said. “But we need a much greater sense of urgency.”

“I am also very concerned by reports my team in the region has received from a variety of sources that, as a result of a major military build-up by Syrian government forces and pro-government militias around the area of Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon, the local civilian population is being increasingly displaced,” Pillay said. “It appears likely that this is in preparation for a large-scale attack to uproot the armed opposition from Qusayr, and local people clearly fear a possible repeat of last week’s killings of civilians.”

“Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture, constitute very serious crimes,” the High Commissioner said.

“Our concern is all the greater given recent information reaching our team on the ground in neighbouring countries that government forces are continuing to resort to indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in residential areas,” said Pillay.

Witnesses, many of whom had suffered serious injury such as loss of limbs, told UN human rights monitors their homes had been shelled during attacks from February to mid-April.

“We are getting consistent testimonies that suggest government forces are directly targeting key life-sustaining entities such as bakeries and pharmacies, hospitals and schools where civilians are sheltering,” Pillay said. “Depending on the circumstances, these attacks may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.”

Witness accounts also suggest that areas are coming under rocket and mortar attack irrespective of whether they are suspected of having a heavy or a minimal presence of armed opposition groups.

“But the disgraceful disregard for the protection of civilians is not restricted to the Government side,” the High Commissioner said. “The scope of violations by anti-government armed groups has also increased alarmingly.”

Recent reports suggest, for example that some anti-Government armed groups have been operating and hiding within densely populated areas, thereby seriously endangering civilians, she said. Recent bomb attacks in Damascus have killed and injured dozens of civilians. The large number of civilian deaths and injuries suggests a failure on the part of those responsible to respect international law standards and principles, including the principles of distinction, precaution and proportion.”

“Abductions and the taking of hostages by some armed opposition groups, including Jabhat Al Nusra, are also reported to be increasing,” the High Commissioner added. “The plight of Syrian women and girls is a particular concern to me, including recent allegations that some fighters are engaging in forced marriages.”

ENDS

UN Human Rights Country page Syria:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/SYIndex.aspx

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell (+ 41 22 917 9434 /ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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