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Syria: Pillay calls for urgent action to halt violence

GENEVA / NEW YORK (12 December 2011) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Monday expressed alarm about reports indicating a military build-up and possible imminent crackdown in the Syrian city of Homs, and called for urgent action at the international level to stop the violence before Syria plunges into sectarian violence and civil war.

“Many voices are warning that a major assault on Homs may be imminent,” Pillay said, shortly after briefing the UN Security Council in a closed session. “I am not in a position to confirm those reports, but the prospect of such an attack is extremely alarming.”

Reports received by the UN Human Rights office from sources in contact with people inside the country indicate that hundreds of tanks and weapons have been deployed into Homs over the past few days, dozens of check-points have been set up and trenches have been dug around the city. Video footage shows corpses on the street, tanks in residential areas and bullet-riddled buildings. Pillay noted that the UN Human Rights office cannot independently verify the recent footage or reports because the Government has failed to grant access into the country, but said they were “consistent with established patterns.”

“Credible reports from a variety of sources received by my office indicate that the total number of people killed since the protests began in March now probably exceeds 5,000,” Pillay said. “This number includes civilians, as well as defecting soldiers and those executed for refusing to shoot civilians.” It does not include serving members of the military and other security forces and militias, hundreds of whom have also been killed, she said.

“I am appalled by the constant stream of grave violations that have taken place since the first protests in Syria in March,” Pillay said. “I am concerned that this continued ruthless repression and deliberate stirring of sectarian tensions, especially in Homs, may soon plunge Syria into civil war. The Government of Syria has manifestly ignored the pleas and the condemnations of the international community at all levels, including the Security Council."

Pillay noted that President Assad has claimed he never ordered his security forces to kill civilians. “I call on him to make a very clear public order to his security forces not to commit further human rights violations in Homs, or anywhere else in Syria, from this moment on. If anyone disobeys these orders, he must then order their immediate arrest and prosecution.”

Noting that world leaders have repeatedly acknowledged the responsibility of Governments to protect their populations from crimes against humanity, the High Commissioner said “The Fact-Finding Mission, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and I myself have all stated that we believe crimes against humanity have been committed in Syria. Inaction by the international community will embolden Syrian authorities, and ensure perpetrators go unpunished.”

“We can cite so many tragic situations where the lack of proper investigation or accountability for gross atrocities has perpetuated violence and repression. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again.” she said, reiterating her call on the Security Council to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The High Commissioner echoed the Secretary-General’s call for the UN at all levels, especially the Security Council, to speak coherently with one voice. “Urgent, effective measures in a collective and decisive manner must be taken to protect Syrians,” Pillay said.

“The League of Arab States has responded resolutely to the events in Syria and its efforts are welcome,” she said. “It is imperative that Syria takes heed of these calls and ends the deadly repression of its own people. It should allow human rights monitors in the country and cooperate with the League fully. We remain ready to provide human rights monitoring assistance to the League of Arab States if requested.”

UN Human Rights, 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

For more information please contact UN Human Rights Office in New York media officer Fred Kirungi (+ 1 917 367 3431 / kirungi@un.org)

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