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Continued killings of protestors risks sending Syria into downward spiral - Pillay

GENEVA (26 March 2011) – The UN human rights chief on Saturday called on Syria "to draw lessons from recent events across the Middle East and North Africa which clearly demonstrate that violent repression of peaceful protest not only does not resolve the grievances of people taking to the streets, it risks creating a downward spiral of anger, violence, killings and chaos."

“Since the beginning of this year, we have witnessed many instances where the authorities in various countries have used force against mass protests. Nowhere has this strategy succeeded in quelling discontent. Indeed, it has only fuelled frustration and anger until they have reached boiling point,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.

“Once this downward spiral begins, it is much more difficult to do what should have been done in the first place, namely guarantee protesters' legitimate rights to peaceful expression and assembly, listen and work to resolve the real issues they are raising and take rapid action to tackle the underlying human rights deficits that have led to their discontent.”

Noting that the Government on Thursday announced a set of political and economic reforms, including holding consultations on ending the state of emergency that has been in place since 1963, Pillay said the violent repression of protests yesterday by security forces was particularly disturbing.

"Actions speak much louder than words," she said. "To announce a package of long-overdue and very welcome reforms, and then to open fire at protestors in the streets the very next day sends diametrically opposite signals and seriously undermines trust."

The High Commissioner cited reports of dozens of killings over the past week, including at least two children. Pillay condemned the use of live ammunition against unarmed protestors. While welcoming the Government's announcement on Thursday of an investigation into the earlier killings, she reiterated that any investigation must be independent, impartial, transparent and effective. Pillay also called for the immediate release of all detained protesters and human rights defenders.

“I urge the authorities to immediately halt the use of live fire against peaceful protests and to hold accountable those responsible for the killings in order to regain the people's trust and begin a broad, inclusive and meaningful dialogue.” she said.

She cited examples of the use of force to suppress initial peaceful protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain and noted that in each case the violent initial response of the authorities contributed to a rapid deterioration in the situation, as well as many deaths and injuries. In several cases, this led to a protracted difficult security situation -- and in the case of Libya, a full-blown conflict -- which has also impeded the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of entire populations.

“If those governments had responded more thoughtfully, without violence, to the demands of the people, so much death, so much destruction, so much of the fear and uncertainty faced by ordinary people could have been averted,” Pillay said. "The Syrian people are no different to the other populations in the region. They want to enjoy the fundamental human rights which they have been denied for so long."

ENDS

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

Learn more about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx

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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 )