Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Syria unrest: UN rights body to investigate crackdown

This image taken from amateur video made available on 17 August 2011 purports to show armoured vehicles and troops as they take up positions in Latakia, Syria The UN says more than 2,200 people have died since March in Syria's crackdown
The UN Human Rights Council has ordered an investigation into violations reportedly committed by Syrian security forces during the crackdown on dissent.
It passed a resolution to "urgently dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry" and demanded an end to the violence against protesters.
The commission will "investigate violations of international human rights law in Syria since July 2011".
The UN says more than 2,200 people have died since protests began in mid-March.
There were 33 votes in favour of the resolution on Syria, four against - reportedly including China, Russia and Cuba - and nine abstentions.
The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, opened the emergency session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.
She told delegates that "the gravity of ongoing violations and brutal attacks against the peaceful protesters in [Syria] demand your continued attention", adding that security forces were employing excessive force, including heavy artillery.
The emergency session had the backing even of Syria's neighbours such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva.
Evidence from UN human rights experts that Syrian troops have been using tanks and snipers against unarmed demonstrators, even knives to finish off the injured, has caused shock and outrage worldwide.
The crackdown on protesters is drawing continued criticism from the international community
But calls by the US and UK for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down irritated some member states; in the end, Russia and China voted against the resolution, calling it one-sided and over politicised, our correspondent says.
Those two countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council, and could veto any further UN action - such as sanctions - against Syria.
The big question now is whether Syria will co-operate with the UN investigators, our correspondent adds.
'Your turn Bashar' A UN humanitarian mission is in Syria in order, the UN says, "to assess such needs as food and medicine".
It visited the central city of Homs on Monday, but was advised to leave for security reasons when protests started, it added.
Human rights activists said three people were killed when security personnel and militia opened fire on crowds who had gathered to welcome the UN team.
Inspired by the recent events in Libya, many protesters chanted: "Gaddafi is gone, it's your turn Bashar."
On Monday, Ms Pillay said the current death toll of 2,200 people included more than 350 killed since the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Later, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it was "troubling" that President Assad had not kept his word about halting military operations.
Syria's protests first erupted in mid-March. The demonstrators are demanding the removal of President Assad, whose family have been in power for 40 years.
As well as civilians, human rights groups say 500 soldiers have been killed and thousands arrested since March. The government has blamed the unrest on "armed criminal gangs".

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