U.N. rights boss calls on Syria to halt "assault"

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 09, 2011 6:14 AM
U.N. rights boss calls on Syria to halt "assault"

GENEVA (Reuters) - The top U.N. human rights official called on Syria on Thursday to halt its "assault on its own people" and said more than 1,100 people may have been killed and up to 10,000 detained since March.

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Damascus to allow a fact-finding mission into the country to investigate all allegations, including Syrian state television reports that 120 members of the security forces were killed by armed gangs.

"It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers," she said in a statement.

"I urge the government to halt this assault on its own people's most fundamental human rights."

More than 1,000 people have been killed in three months of popular unrest in Syria, human rights groups say. On Wednesday, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal handed the U.N. Security Council a draft resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on protesters, despite the risk of a Russia veto.

"We are receiving an increasing number of alarming reports pointing to the Syrian government's continuing efforts to ruthlessly crush civilian protests," said Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge.

Local human rights groups estimated that more than 50 protesters were killed during a protest in the city of Hama last Friday. Pillay said it would seem that it was one of the bloodiest days since the uprising began.

She voiced concern at reports of civilians fleeing the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour after what she called threatening statements by government officials.

Syrian troops with tanks have deployed near Jisr al-Shughour, prompting many of its 50,000 people to flee. The government has accused armed bands of killing scores of its security men in the town and has vowed to send in the army.

More than a thousand Syrians have fled across the border into Turkey in the last 24 hours and have taken refuge in a tent camp, the U.N. refugee UNHCR said on Thursday.

On April 29, the U.N. Human Rights Council set up a fact-finding mission to investigate violations in Syria.

Pillay again urged Syria to allow the U.N. human rights investigators into the country to establish the facts. Members of her team are collecting evidence in the region but have yet to receive a greenlight from Damascus.

"So far we have not received any official reply from Syria -- either positive or negative," she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Elizabeth Piper)