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HRW tells UN to demand end to Syria violence

Human Rights Watch called Monday for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to help bring an end to nine weeks of violence against civilians.

“The time has come to sanction Bashar al-Assad and those in his entourage who are responsible for the human rights violations against civilians,” Philippe Bolopion, the rights group’s United Nations director, told AFP.

Bolopion was speaking in Johannesburg, where he arrived Monday to lobby non-permanent Security Council member South Africa to support an anti-Assad resolution.

He said whispers in diplomatic circles indicated Pretoria was reluctant to support a vote condemning the Syrian leader.

“People are saying behind the scenes that South Africa is opposed to any resolution because it has the impression its hand was forced on the Libyan question,” he said.

In March, South Africa voted for the resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. But President Jacob Zuma later voiced unease over the way the resolution was being implemented, saying it should be carried out “in letter and spirit” and not used to oust leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Bolopion urged Pretoria not to mix the two issues.

“South Africa should not punish Syrian civilians for what NATO is doing in Libya,” he said.

He said the Security Council should “at a minimum” demand an end to the violence in Syria, call for humanitarian agencies to be given access to conflict zones and insist on Syrian authorities’ cooperation with a UN Human Rights Council investigation.

At least 900 people have been killed and thousands more arrested since the pro-democracy protests erupted, according to rights groups. Many of those arrested and later released said they had been tortured.

The European Union on Monday imposed a visa ban and asset freeze on Assad, calling on him to end the “unacceptable violence” that has racked the country since mid-March.

The Security Council has yet to adopt any resolution on Syria, with concerns over a possible Russian or Chinese veto holding up a European push for a vote to condemn the Assad regime’s crackdown.