U.N. resumes debate on Syria, Damascus boycotts

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 01, 2012 4:29 AM
U.N. resumes debate on Syria, Damascus boycotts

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The main United Nations human rights body was on Thursday expected to condemn the government of President Bashar al-Assad for violations in Syria that may amount to crimes against humanity, diplomats said.

The 47-member Geneva forum resumed a debate, begun on Tuesday, but the Syrian delegation appeared to boycott the talks, which its ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui stormed out of on Tuesday, they said. The Syrian seat remained empty on Thursday.

Gulf countries, backed by Turkey, the European Union and United States, have presented a resolution strongly condemning "the widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities."

These included shelling of civilian areas that has killed "thousands of innocent civilians," executions, the killing and persecution of protesters, the deaths of Syrian and foreign journalists, arbitrary detention and interference with access to medical care.

The text is expected to be adopted easily, despite objections by countries including Russia, China and Cuba, who will call for a vote, according to Western diplomats.

It will mark the fourth time since April that the forum, which has moral authority but no legal force, has condemned Syria.

Syria's ally Iran defended the government and called for giving "time and space"" for it to implement the "sweeping reforms" it has promised.

"Coercive sanctions and interference in internal affairs of Syria, in particular unacceptable covert efforts by some specific countries to arm the opposition groups, would only lead to deepening the crisis,' Iran's ambassador Sayed Mohammed Reza Sajjadi said.

"We urge all relevant U.N. and regional bodies to facilitate an engagement of the government and the opposition in a Syrian-led, inclusive political process and not complicate the situation by threats of military intervention, sanctions and regime change," he said.

Independent U.N. investigators, in a report issued on February 23, said Syrian forces bent on crushing a nearly year-long uprising have shot dead unarmed civilians, shelled residential areas and tortured wounded protesters in hospital on orders from the "highest level."

"The majority of the international community is determined to take swift action in response to the worsening situation in Syria," Britain's ambassador Peter Gooderham told the talks on Thursday.

"We will work to ensure that evidence of human rights violations and abuses committed by all forces in Syria continues to be gathered and securely stored so that those responsible for atrocities will be held accountable," he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Janet Lawrence)