Syria crackdown may be crime against humanity: UN report

18th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

The UN's rights chief said in a report Thursday Syria's crackdown on protests may amount to crimes against humanity and urged the Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

"The mission found a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity," the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) Navi Pillay said.

The OHCHR "urge(s) the Security Council to ... consider referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court," it said in the investigative report on the human rights situation in Syria.

The 22-page report summarizes the findings of 13 human rights and forensic experts mandated by Pillay to investigate "the use of lethal violence against peaceful protestors by the Syrian authorities."

Pillay is expected to present some of the findings at a Security Council meeting Thursday, which has the authority to refer grave instance of human rights violations to the International Criminal Court.

As the investigative team was not allowed in Syria, the report's conclusions are based on the interviews of 180 people both in and outside of Syria, the examination by doctors of wounded persons in hospitals and refugee camps outside of Syria, as well as videos, photos and written communications, it said.

The report only covers the period between March 15 and July 15, but on Thursday the United Nations Human Rights Council said it will hold a session on Monday 22 on Syria, and a European diplomat told AFP it was expected to extend the investigative team's mandate to after 15 July.

Since April, a defiant Assad has tried to quell growing protests against his regime, in violence that has killed around 2,000 people, according to human rights groups.

The report details what it suggests is the regime's "widespread modus operandi to kill civilians by using a) forces on the ground, b) snipers on rooftops and c) air power ... consistent with an apparent shoot to kill policy," it said.

"Interviews were conducted with a number of former soldiers who had deserted the army, the police and different branches of the security forces.

"They stated that they received clear orders to use live ammunition against protestors," the report said.

"On the ground officers often fired indiscriminately at civilians, at close range and without warning.

"There was a clear pattern of snipers shooting at demonstrators ... (and) civilians were shot at by security officers in helicopters.

"Many children and women were killed," it said.

The document also describes summary executions, including reports that "forces conducted regular raids in hospitals to search for and kill injured demonstrators," as well as allegations of toture and arbitrary arrests.

The report called upon the government of Syria to "immediately put an end to the gross human rights violations, including the excessive use of force against demonstrators and the killing of protestors, torture and ill-treatment of detainees and enforced disappearnce."

It also urged the Syrian government to abolish legislation granting security personnel immunity from prosecution, the release of detainees, and to allow humanitarian workers and human rights experts into the country.

On Wednesday, Assad told UN chief Ban Ki-moon that his army's deadly raids on protest towns have halted, a UN spokesman said.

On the ground, however, security forces killed at least 10 people and made sweeping arrests on Wednesday, according to activists.

A defiant Assad on Wednesday told his ruling Baath party that Syria would "remain strong and resilient" despite international pressure.

© 2011 AFP

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