UN vote slams Syria crackdown

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A key UN human rights committee on Tuesday condemned the Syrian government's deadly crackdown on protests, heightening international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

Only 12 nations joined Syria in opposing the resolution backed by 122 countries at the UN General Assembly's human rights committee, with Syria's UN envoy accusing Britain, France and Germany of "inciting civil war" by pressing for the vote.

The resolution "strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities," highlighting the "arbitrary executions" and "persecution" of protesters and human rights defenders.

It joined international calls demanding a halt to the violence.

Russia and China last month vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Assad's crackdown since March, which the UN says has left more than 3,500 dead. The two pointedly joined the 41 countries to abstain in the latest vote.

"The international community cannot remain silent," said Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant at the committee where he stressed the Syrian government's failure to carry out an Arab League peace plan.

Arab nations Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Qatar were among the 61 countries to co-sponsor the resolution.

Syria got the lowest number of countries in support for any of the country specific votes at the UN human rights committee session this year. Iran, North Korea and Myanmar were also the subject of resolutions.

Syria's UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, accused the European nations of conducting a "political, diplomatic and media war."

He said Britain, France and Germany were "part of the escalation of violence in my country" and were "propagating violent sedition" in Syria.

"How can you believe they are not interfering when they are inciting civil war?" said Jaafari, who was given support in speeches by Iranian, North Korean, Venezuelan and Cuban envoys.

After Russia and China vetoed the Security Council resolution last month -- insisting it would be used as an excuse to carry out regime change -- Western powers said they would return to the UN's supreme body to get condemnation.

The Arab League move to suspend Syria and order sanctions has strengthened the case for action by the Security Council, according to western diplomats.

Egypt, where new unrest is rocking the country, supported the resolution.

Saudi ambassador Abdullah al Mouallimi stressed the Arab League efforts to end the violence but pointed the finger at the Assad government when he said "obstacles have been put in place which impede these goals".

Attention is now expected to switch back to the Security Council, where Russia defiantly opposes any condemnation in a formal resolution or any talk of sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that outside support for Syria's opposition was creating more unrest throughout the region.

"Faced with the extreme gravity of the situation, France will pursue, at every concerned venue, its efforts to achieve the end of human rights violations against civilians in Syria," said France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe in a statement on the UN vote.

"As long as the crisis in Syria continues the international pressure on the Assad regime will only intensify," added Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague in a separate statement.

"The Security Council should take notice and get to work on a resolution imposing an arms embargo, referring the case to the International Criminal Court and sanctioning the Syrian leaders involved in the abuse," said Human Rights Watch's UN representative Philippe Bolopion.

US ambassador Susan Rice committed her country to "continue working with the international community to press for an end to the violence" in Syria.

© 2011 AFP

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