16 Feb 2013

Assad ‘should be investigated’ for Syrian war crimes

President Assad should be investigated for “crimes against humanity and war crimes”, says the UN’s human rights chief, pointing to Channel 4 News footage as “actual evidence” of his war crimes.

In an interview with Channel 4 News, the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Syria‘s President Assad is responsible for war crimes being committed by his security forces and other groups allied to him, and as such he should face international courts.

Last month, Channel 4 News witnessed the dramatic late-night escape and rescue of a group of Syrian refugees, fleeing their homeland under fire and crossing into Jordan.

Ms Pillay estimated that up to 70,000 Syrians have died since the conflict began. That figure was revised up from 60,000 just a few weeks before. Ms Pillay said: “We don’t know under what circumstances (they died) but that’s a very shocking figure from the start of the conflict in Syria – and I said this figure is now 70,000 because the killings have been ongoing.”

Ms Pillay said: “What this footage clearly indicates is that the firing is on civilians, refugees fleeing from fear and destruction of their homes. So once again I appreciate this kind of visual and actual evidence of what is going on.”

Syria's President Assad should face courts for his 'crimes against humanity' says UN human rights chief (Image: Reuters)

Eighteen months ago she called for Mr Assad to be investigated based on the evidence to hand, and though he is not facing investigation she said “he should be”.

Ms Pillay added: “The situation has deteriorated catastrophically – it’s now become an ethnic conflict as well. Many more parties involved, the Syrian government – and I think they are right here – are saying that terrorist groups have come into the picture on the side of the rebels.”

“I would say it is a manifest failure of the obligation of a sovereign, which is to protect your citizens and that would be the opening for international intervention – of whatever kind.”

Read more: Syrian refugees - 'Tonight we died many deaths'

Though she did not argue for any specific intervention, military or otherwise, she stressed that the Security Council has a “tool box” which is used with the sole purpose of protecting civilians.

She said: “I know that because of the military intervention in Libya, members of the Security Council are much more cautious about military intervention because the intervention may continue and become a regime change – and so acting out the interests of one or other governments.”

Though the question of how to intervene in Syria is an intergovernmental one, she said the UN urges “that action should be taken immediately”.

“If there is doubt or hesitation it is because people are assessing the value of military intervention in places like Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. That it could become a long, drawn out war with no guarantees that civilians would not be harmed in that process,” she added.