UN rights council demands Syria protect civilians

AP News
Posted: May 29, 2013 12:32 PM
UN rights council demands Syria protect civilians

GENEVA (AP) — The U.S., Turkey and Qatar pushed through a U.N. resolution Wednesday demanding a probe into the fighting around the Syrian town of Qusair, near Lebanon, and condemnation of foreign fighters supporting President Bashar Assad.

The resolution approved by a vote of 36-1 in the U.N. Human Rights Council calls for urgent investigation into alleged abuses by government forces and Hezbollah fighters in Qusair, along with more aid access and civilian protections. Only Venezuela voted against it. Eight other nations in the 47-nation council abstained; two were absent.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay set the tone for the debate, saying Syria's civil war is "spilling out of control" and represents a failure to protect citizens against war crimes and crimes against humanity that are now a routine occurrence.

"The situation in Syria reflects a colossal failure to protect civilians. Day after day, children, women and men suffer the brutality of unbridled violence and gross human rights violations by all parties," she told the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council. "The message from all of us should be the same: we will not support this conflict with arms, ammunition, politics or religion."

At an emergency session of the Geneva-based council, the three countries sought a resolution, referring to Lebanon's militant Shiite group Hezbollah, aimed at pressuring for more accountability, civilian protection and humanitarian aid access.

The council, which is the U.N.'s top human rights body, has held a series of urgent debates, special sessions and other high-profile talks on Syria since two years ago that have so far produced nine resolutions, but had little effect on dimming the spiraling violence.

Pillay said the recent introduction of foreign fighters into Syria, where they are crossing borders to support both the government and opposition, has added a new dangerous element that is destabilizing the region.

"The world is watching and they will be held accountable," U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said of Assad's regime and its allies. "We condemn Hezbollah's direct role in the hostilities, a role which inflames regional tensions, escalates violence inside Syria, and incites instability in Lebanon. The regime has an opportunity to calm these tensions now by ending its assault."

Russian Ambassador Alexey Borodavkin said his government wants the "crisis rapidly to be surmounted by the Syrians themselves," and the U.S.-backed resolution could complicate efforts to bring the government and opposition to the negotiating table for a planned peace conference in Geneva in June.

"We consider it necessary for there to be a rapid cessation of violence in this country and the start of a broad-based political dialogue between the government and the opposition without preconditions," he said.

Syrian Ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi accused Qatar and Turkey of being "major parties in the bloodshed in Syria" by helping to recruit jihadist extremists from more than 40 countries, and he called the resolution biased and politically motivated.

"It was drafted in a hate-filled and unconstructive manner. It has nothing to do with transparency. It is far from the truth," he said.

Pillay, however, said the rising numbers of foreign fighters crossing Syria's borders to support one side or the other is fueling the sectarian violence, and the situation is beginning to show worrying signs of destabilizing the region as a whole.

Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court to ensure accountability for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," she said. "War crimes and crimes against humanity are being routinely committed and the prevalent culture of impunity is helping to prolong the conflict."