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UN puts protest deaths at 2,200 as Syria disputes fact-finding report

Seven people were reportedly killed after a UN fact-finding mission left the restive city of Homs yesterday. The UN has criticised Syria for restricting the mission’s access.

File photo of a protest poster appealing for UN intervention in the Syrian city of Homs.
File photo of a protest poster appealing for UN intervention in the Syrian city of Homs.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE UNITED NATIONS has put the death toll in Syria at 2,200 people since anti-government protests began in mid-March.

Speaking yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that 350 people have been killed since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in early August. She added that although the Syrian government acknowledges some 1,900 deaths, it claims the majority of these are actually members of the Syrian forces who have been killed by armed gangs.

However, Pillay said that “far from being acts of terrorism, the people targeted were exercising their legitimate rights of assembly and speech”.

Yesterday, seven people were reportedly killed by Syrian security forces in Homs following a visit by a UN fact-finding team. Anti-government protesters had gathered ahead of the team’s arrival and four were shot when troops opened fire to disperse the crowds.

‘Shoot-to-kill’

The Syrian government granted limited access to the UN team, which sought to assess reported human rights violations across the country. The team’s report and the situation in Syria were debated at the United Nations yesterday.

According to a United Nations Human Rights Council report of the debate:

The fact-finding mission found a pattern of widespread and systematic human rights violations by Syrian security and military forces, including murder, enforced disappearances, torture, deprivation of liberty, and persecution.

Although the report covered the period of 15 March to 15 July 2011, there were indications that a pattern of violations continues until today. The scale and nature of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity.

Navi Pillay said that Syrian authorities refused to grant the mission full access, but it was still able to gather “credible, corroborated, and consistent accounts” of human rights violations.

She said that Syrian security forces had adopted a shoot-to-kill policy in dealing with what have been largely-peaceful demonstrations. The mission also heard reports of summary executions and of the security forces covering up killings.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendes said he had received reports of serious violations against the Syrian people by their state. He said that it was difficult to get comprehensive reports from the ground due to a ban on journalists and human rights groups, but that the population had been deprived of food and water by Syrian forces and there have been thousands of arbitrary civilian detentions.

‘Misconstruing’

Pillay has recommended that the Security Council considers referring Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Syria’s delegation to the UN said that the fact-finding mission’s report included statements misconstruing the truth. They said that 600 security force members had been killed and that the demonstrations were not peaceful, as was suggested in the report, but were carried out by armed gangs.

The delegation also said that Syria is the victim of an unprecedented international campaign which seeks to support sectarian violence and influence its domestic policies.

Syrian state news agency SANA reports that a ‘Syria is Fine’ tour visited Hama to inspect the “sabotage acts committed by terrorist gangs against the public properties”. One the participants, Dr Ibrahim Aloush from Jordan, reportedly said that what the group saw indicated to him that the attacks were part of a conspiracy targeting Syria.

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