Conflict & Justice

Syria in danger of 'full-fledged conflict,' says UN's Navi Pillay


UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay appears on a TV screen at the opening of a session of the United Nation Human Rights Council on February 27, 2012 in Geneva. Pillay recently added Israel to a list of countries that restrict human rights groups.


Fabrice Coffrini

The United Nations' highest human rights official has called for an investigation into recent atrocities in Syria, warning that the country could descend into civil war unless other countries do more to stop the violence.

In a statement read to an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council today, High Commissioner Navi Pillay urged world powers to help implement Kofi Annan's peace plan and ensure that those committing abuses are punished.

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"Otherwise, the situation in Syria might descend into a full-fledged conflict and the future of the country, as well as the region as a whole could be in grave danger," the statement reads. "We must do our utmost to prevent this from happening."

Pillay alleges that incidents such as the more than 100 deaths in Houla one week ago could amount to war crimes.

They "may be indicative of a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations that have been perpetrated with impunity," her statement said, calling on the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"Those who order, assist, or fail to stop attacks on civilians are individually criminally liable for their actions," Pillay states. "Other states have a duty to do all they can to prevent and prosecute perpetrators of international crimes."

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According to Reuters, the UN Human Rights Council is due to vote on a resolution submitted by Qatar, Turkey and the US that condemns "the wanton killings of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse by pro-regime elements and a series of government artillery and tank shellings of a residential neighborhood."

European Union countries are seeking stronger wording, including a call to refer Syria to the ICC, unnamed diplomats told the news agency. Russia and China are expected to oppose the resolution even without that addition.

Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague told the BBC that, given the gravity of the situation, all options were on the table – including, presumably, military intervention.

Reports from Syria suggest that mass killings continue, the New York Times reported, citing accounts from activists who say that 11 factory workers were shot at close range this week outside the western city of Qusair, allegedly by pro-government gunmen.

The Syrian government denies ordering executions and has blamed the Houla massacre on armed rebels.

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