UN rights council condemns 'gross violations' in Syria
The UN Human Rights Council has urged tougher international action against Syria, condemning "gross violations" of human rights following evidence security forces killed and tortured dissidents.
Rights council members also agreed in a vote in Geneva on Friday to appoint a special investigator and refer a report on the abuses to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The emergency meeting was called to address the findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, appointed by the Human Rights Council earlier this year, which said security forces had committed crimes against humanity, including the killing of 307 children, since the March crackdown.
The council passed a resolution "strongly condemning the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities."
The European Union said the vote sent a strong message to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to halt the violence but Russia, a close Syrian ally which voted against the resolution, branded it "unacceptable".
The resolution recommends that the main UN bodies consider the report although explicit reference in the draft to the General Assembly and the UN Security Council -- the organisation's most powerful branch -- was omitted.
Rights groups said Friday's action did not go far enough and want the crisis referred to the International Criminal Court.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose role is separate from the inter-governmental rights council, has made the same recommendation and warned at the meeting that the "ruthless repression" could drive Syria to civil war.
Pillay said more than 4,000 had been killed in the crackdown since March and tens of thousands arrested. At least 12,400 people are also reported to have fled the country.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the resolution was a clear signal to the Syrian people that the international community supports them.
"This EU initiative, supported by Arab states and countries across the world, demonstrates that we do not accept Syria's persistent failure to comply with its international obligations," Ashton said in a statement.
US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain described the situation as one of "slaughter" in her address to the meeting, the third called to discuss Syria since the repression began.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the council's move, along with sanctions taken by the Arab League and other international actions, "shows that the Assad regime is now more isolated and under greater international pressure than ever before."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the move confirmed once again the regime's international isolation and that resolve to stop the repression was stronger than ever.
The Commission said evidence it collected showed Syrian security forces committed murder and torture on orders from the top of Assad's regime.
The panel was not allowed entry to the country and based its report on interviews with 223 victims and witnesses carried out elsewhere and via Skype.
Thirty-seven members voted in favour of the resolution, six abstained while four countries -- Russia, Cuba, Ecuador and China -- voted against.
Russian ambassador Valery Loshchinin said the international community had been given a "one-sided" report of events in Syria.
Moscow warned against using the resolution as a pretext for military action.
"The positions (adopted) in the document, which include the veiled hint of the possibility of foreign military intervention under the pretext of defending the Syrian people, are unacceptable to the Russian side," the foreign ministry said.
Human Rights Watch said it regretted that the council had stopped short of seeking Security Council support so observers could gain access to Syria.
"States that stood in the way of asking the Security Council to take such steps and to refer this situation to the International Criminal Court need to explain to the Syrian people what they intend to do to stop the abuses," said spokesman Philippe Dam.
"Standing by when crimes against humanity are occurring just shouldn't be an option."
Amnesty International also said the resolution pointed to the need for referral to the ICC.
"The resolution effectively acknowledges there is scant hope of obtaining justice and accountability via Syria's own justice system... and so the need for such a referral to the ICC is all the clearer," said Philip Luther, interim head of Middle East and North Africa.
© 2011 AFP