30 May 2012

Syria recalled to UN as new killings uncovered

Channel 4 News challenges the Syrian ambassador before the UN Human Rights Council’s special session probing the Houla massacre after 13 more bodies are discovered.

Syrian activists claimed the latest victims of the violence were army defectors killed by President Assad’s forces, but their account has not been verified. The bodies were discovered bound and shot in eastern Syria.

A UN Human Rights Council special session, which will take place on Friday, will probe the killings in the town of Houla last week in which 108 died, many of them summarily executed according to eyewitness accounts.

In a lively exchange with Channel 4 News on Wednesday, Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari said those responsible for the Houla “massacre” would be dealt with when a government commission reports back in two days.

“The Syrian government is drastically against this heinous and appalling crime. It is more than a crime. It is a massacre,” he said.

Syrian delays

Mr Ja’afari was questioned about why Syria was so slow to react and informed that Channel 4 News had already found witnesses. In response, Mr Ja’afari suggested Channel 4 share its information with the Syrians.

Watch Alex Thomson's eye-witness account: The searing grief of Houla's survivors

“We are a state, a respectable state, not a banana republic. We need an investigation. We need judges. We need to go through the law,” Mr Ja’afari said. “Those who have testimonies, let them share what they have with the Syrian government.”

Channel 4 News reporter Matt Frei responded by advising Mr Ja’afari to watch Channel 4 News.

Libya to Iran on the brink

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, told Channel 4 News on Wednesday that it was “outrageous” to suggest Russian support for Syria and supplies of arms were helping to cover Syrian atrocities.

“This is a Syrian crisis. And from the outset we have been trying to find a way, if you will, for the Kofi Annan plan,” Mr Churkin said, adding that Russia was active in the region because the situation is on the brink of further deterioration.

“We may have before too long a situation where the entire region from Libya to Iran will be in shambles,” Mr Churkin said.


Friday’s session at the UN, which had been demanded by the USA, Qatar, Turkey and the EU, will be the fourth time Syria has been called to explain itself before the council since the unrest broke out last year.

Following the announcement by several Western states that they were expelling Syrian diplomats Turkey said on Wednesday that it had asked Syria to withdraw all its diplomats from the country within 72 hours.

The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan warned that Syria had reached a “tipping point”. After his meeting on Tuesday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Mr Annan told reporters the six-point international peace plan for Syria was not being implemented “as it must be”.

Bold steps

“I appealed to him [Mr Assad] for bold steps now – not tomorrow, now – to create momentum for the implementation of the plan,” Mr Annan said.

Calling on the Syrian government and all government-backed militias to show “maximum restraint”, he also asked the “armed opposition to cease acts of violence”.

Mr Annan’s deputy, Jean-Marie Guehenno, reportedly told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday that direct engagement between the Syrian government and the opposition was “impossible at the moment.”