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U.N. rights chief seeks 'urgent' measures to protect Syrian civilians

December 2, 2011 |  8:22 am

Syria2REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- The United Nations’ top human rights official on Friday urged the U.N. Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands after an independent panel found evidence suggesting that the country’s security forces had committed crimes against humanity in a bid to suppress an 8-month-old uprising.

“The Syrian authorities’ continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a special session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. “The international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people.”

The international panel commissioned by the council released a report Monday documenting what it described as systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights, including torturing and killing children, shooting unarmed demonstrators and raping detainees.

Pillay said more than 4,000 people, including 307 children, have been reported killed since March, when major protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime began. Tens of thousands more have been arrested and at least 12,400 have sought refuge in neighboring countries, she told the session, which was called to discuss the report.

Syrian authorities dispute the U.N. figures and blame the bloodshed on armed gangs backed from abroad.

"We strongly condemn the fact that the international commission on Syria was not objective in the report," Syria's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Fayssal Hamwi, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. "The solution cannot come from the corridors of the international community."

The Syrian government faces mounting international pressure to end its crackdown. The European Union, Arab League, United States and Turkey have imposed tough sanctions.

But a proposed Security Council resolution condemning Assad’s handling of the unrest was blocked  by Syria’s allies, Russia and China, because they saw it as potentially setting the stage for Libya-style military intervention.

Opposition activists and government media outlets reported large demonstrations for and against Assad’s regime on Friday, when protesters traditionally take to the streets after midday prayers. At least six people were killed, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a major opposition group.

Journalists are heavily restricted in Syria, making it difficult to verify either side's account.


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Photo: Antigovernment protesters in Syria pray next to the bodies of people who were among those killed by security forces on Nov. 2 in Hula near the city of Homs. Credit: Reuters