Arab nations to pressure Syria at UN

GENEVA — A UN human rights expert says Arab nations agreed Monday to demand that Syria allow an international probe within its borders to see whether crimes against humanity have been committed.

By (AP)

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Published: Mon 22 Aug 2011, 8:10 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:53 AM

Jean Ziegler, a member of the UN Human Rights Council’s advisory committee, told The Associated Press that Kuwait will make the demand on behalf of Arab nations during the council’s special session Monday.

The 47-nation council will likely agree to an investigation in Syria with the Arab nations backing it, Ziegler told the AP.

Syria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Fayssal al-Hamwi, tried to pre-empt the demand by telling diplomats at the outset of the session that his nation is “ready to receive” a UN inquiry within its borders sometime “in the near future,” as soon as Syrian authorities finish their own probe.

He said his nation is the victim of “an attempt to terrorize our country” and a misleading campaign aimed at overthrowing the regime that includes “the lies and the hatred of mass media.”

The session was held days after a high-level UN human rights team recommended that the UN Security Council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution of alleged atrocities.

“We fear that the threshold of systematic and widespread violence has clearly been reached,” UN special rapporteur on torture Juan E Mendez said Monday, explaining the team’s recommendation.

The UN investigators said in their report that government forces in Syria may have committed crimes against humanity by conducting summary executions, torturing prisoners and targeting children in their crackdown against opposition protesters.

Crimes against humanity are considered the most serious of all international human rights violations after genocide.

The report concluded that at least 1,900 people had been killed in the unrest by mid-July, a figure the Syrian government confirmed but said included at least 260 members of the security forces.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay demanded that Syria immediately halt its crackdown and told the session “the scale and nature of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity.”

She said some 2,200 people have died as a result of the government crackdown, with 350 reportedly killed since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Pillay told diplomats the U.N. report on Syria was authoritative, even though investigators couldn’t get into the country.

“The gravity of ongoing violations and the brutal attacks against the peaceful protesters in that country demand your continued attention,” she said. “Accounts from victims and witnesses indicate that, far from being acts of terrorism, the people targeted were exercising their legitimate rights of assembly and speech.”

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