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UN human rights chief urges action to halt escalating violence in Syria

8 February 2012

GENEVA – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Wednesday deplored the ongoing assault on the Syrian city of Homs and stressed the “extreme urgency for the international community to cut through the politics and take effective action to protect the Syrian population.”

“I am appalled by the Syrian Government’s wilful assault on Homs, and its use of artillery and other heavy weaponry in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas in the city,” she said. “The failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appears to have fueled the Syrian Government’s readiness to massacre its own people in an effort to crush dissent.”

According to accounts from local sources, as well as independent media reports from inside Homs, the Syrian army has sharply increased the use of tanks, helicopters, mortars, rockets and artillery fire to attack civilian areas.

Reports indicate that hospitals, which were already struggling to cope with all those injured in recent weeks, are now overwhelmed or inaccessible, and people have set up makeshift clinics throughout the beleaguered city, with little or no medical supplies.

Shells reportedly struck one of these makeshift hospitals in the Bab Amr neighborhood on Monday, resulting in casualties.

“In addition to the continuing widespread human rights abuses, I fear the humanitarian situation has significantly deteriorated in many parts of the country in recent months, and especially in Homs, where parts of the city have been largely cut off or encircled for long periods,” Pillay said.

“In the past eleven months, since the start of the brutal Government crackdown on largely peaceful protests in Syria, thousands of Syrian protestors and civilians have been killed, injured, detained, tortured and forcibly disappeared,” the High Commissioner said. “All evidence points to the involvement of the Syrian army and security forces in the perpetration of most of these crimes. In light of their nature and scale, they may constitute crimes against humanity, punishable under international law. Those in command should, however, remember that there is no statute of limitations for serious international crimes, and there will be a sustained effort for as long as it takes to bring justice to all those who have been victims of the gross and systematic crimes taking place in Syria today.”

“At their 2005 Summit, World leaders unanimously agreed that each individual State has the responsibility to protect its population from crimes against humanity and other international crimes.” Pillay said. “They also agreed that when a State is manifestly failing to protect its population from serious international crimes, the international community as a whole has the responsibility to step in by taking protective action in a collective, timely and decisive manner,” she added. “The virtual carte blanche now granted to the Syrian Government betrays the spirit and the word of this unanimous decision. It is depriving the population of the protection they so urgently need.”

A Fact-Finding Mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and an independent Commission of Inquiry have investigated the violations in Syria and concluded that crimes against humanity may have been committed since mid-March 2011. The Commission of Inquiry has further concluded that these abuses must have been perpetrated with the approval or complicity of the authorities, and were apparently “conducted pursuant to a policy of the state.” In August and December 2011, the High Commissioner encouraged the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

ENDS

UN human rights office Country Page – Syrian Arab Republic http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/SYIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Xabier Celaya: (+ 41 22 917 9383 /xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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