Syria vows reforms, blames outsiders for unrest

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 07, 2011 5:38 AM
Syria vows reforms, blames outsiders for unrest

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Syria, pledging to pursue democratic reforms, accused foreign powers on Friday of arming demonstrators and the media of waging a propaganda war against President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the U.N. Human Rights Council that more than 1,100 security personnel had been killed in the unrest. He was speaking a day after the United Nations said the overall death toll since March exceeded 2,900.

Syrian authorities have cracked down hard on pro-democracy protests demanding an end to 41 years of Assad family rule that were inspired by popular uprisings that have toppled Arab leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya this year.

British, French and U.S. envoys took the floor at the Geneva forum to call on Syria to halt executions, arbitrary detentions, torture and enforced disappearances of civilians.

Mekdad said: "The government of Syria is going to continue its work to reinforce human rights so that we can establish a democratic society in line with the rule of law in line with what people deserve and aspire to."

But he added: "We are facing hegemony by the West and the United States and its protege Israel in our region...Syria today is the target of terrorist threats.

"Security forces have become martyrs. Over 1,100 have been killed by the terrorists who are supplied with arms by some of our neighboring countries," he said.

There had been no shelling of civilians and tanks were only used to protect security forces from violence, Mekdad said.

The 47-member Human Rights Council body was holding a three-hour debate on Syria's record, part of its regular examination of all U.N. member states.

Mekdad said Syria welcomed an impartial review of its record, but added: "Western countries do not care about human rights, they only care to secure shipments of oil and minerals that they are going to pillage."


Betty King, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said: "The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Syrian government's gross violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people and its continued violent and deadly repression of peaceful protests."

King said a government that "chooses to rule through terror and intimidation cannot be considered legitimate and must step aside immediately."

This brought a protest from Cuba's delegation which said that such calls had no place in the U.N. rights body and it was up to the sovereign Syrian people to decide on their leader.

Iran and Russia joined Cuba in praising reforms announced by Assad, including the lifting of an emergency law and holding of local elections due in December.

"We are opposed to naming and shaming," China's envoy said. The U.N. Security Council failed to condemn Syria on Tuesday after Russia and China vetoed a European-drafted resolution.

The rights forum last month launched an international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity, including mass killings, which a preliminary U.N. investigation said were being perpetrated by Syrian security forces.

Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian heading the new three-member investigation, had hoped to meet senior Syrian officials in Geneva this week to seek permission to enter the country.

"We are in an expectation mode...But my patience is limited," Pinheiro told Reuters shortly before the U.N. debate on Friday, confirming that no such meeting had been scheduled.

The international team, which plans to gather testimony in the region, is due to issue a report by the end of November.

Radwan Ziadeh, an exiled Syrian activist, said on Thursday that more than 30,000 Syrians had been imprisoned since protests began, with many detained in schools or soccer fields.

His Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies has documented the deaths of 183 children at the hands of Syrian forces, many under torture, he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alistair Lyon)