THE UNITED NATIONS human rights chief has called on member states to act immediately to protect Syrian people as President Bashar Assad escalates his violent campaign against civilians.
Just hours after Navi Pillay’s address to the General Assembly, activist groups in Homs have reported further violence in the city.
Troops loyal to Assad have been shelling Homs for more than a week, according to the Local Coordination Committees. Hundreds have been killed and the humanitarian conditions are worsening each day.
“Crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed in Syria,” said Pillay. “I have encouraged the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. All member states must ensure that these crimes do not go unpunished.”
The human rights chief said that there were now “credible accounts” of tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery being used to “pummel the city of Homs”.
Pillay warned yesterday that the conflict in Syria is moving towards all-out civil war as the death toll rises every day.
The longer the international community fails to take action, the more the civilian population will suffer from countless atrocities committed against them.”
The meeting was held in the wake of the Security Council’s failure to agree on collective action after Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution endorsing Arab League efforts to end the crisis.
Pillay blamed the veto for emboldening the Syrian government to launch an assault to crush dissent with “overwhelming force”.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton met with the Turkish Foreign Minister yesterday and Syria was at the “top of the list” of important matters. She said diplomatic pressure on Syria will be intensified and targeted sanctions will be strengthened.
“It is deplorable that the regime has escalated violence in cities across the country, including using artillery and tank fire against innocent civilians.”
The US and Turkey have once more called on the regime to heed the Arab League’s latest efforts to end the killing immediately and withdraw military forces from residential areas.
Clinton also called on President Assad to allow monitors and journalists into the country and release political prisoners.
It is time to begin a “genuine, sincere, democratic transition,” she said.
The Friends of Syria group will hold its first meeting in Tunisia next week. The Arab League, Turkey and the US will attend.
No electricity, food or water
On the humanitarian side, Clinton said that the US and Turkey have increased funding to the Red Crescent, the International Committee for the Red Cross and other aid agencies. There is also work being done with Syrian organisations to help families with no electricity, food or clean water.
The Assad regime continues to assert that the violence in Syria is a result of a crackdown on terrorist groups. Earlier today, Syria’s representative to the UN Dr Bashar al-Jafari said Syria has “the right to protect its citizens, combat terrorism and armed violence and put an end for them.”
He also claimed that Pillay’s presentation was based on “fabricated news reports”. He said that armed terrorist groups continue to carry out “arbitrary killings, rape, kidnapping and mutilations of Syrians”.
Earlier today, the foreign ministry in Russia tweeted that Syrian authorities “will soon announce a date for a referendum on the constitution whose adoption will pave the way to free elections”.
More than 5,400 people have been killed since the uprising began in March last year as part of the wider Arab Spring movement, the UN has said. Another 18,000 are currently being held in detention and thousands more are reported missing. At least 25,000 citizens have fled the country, while another 70,000 have been displaced within Syria.