13 Dec 2011

Syria death toll ‘over 5,000’

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay tells the UN Security Council that “intolerable” violence has caused the death toll in Syria to rise by 1,000 in 10 days to reach 5,000.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the Syrian government’s actions could amount to crimes against humanity, noting “alarming” events in the besieged city of Homs.

The figure of 5,000 – up by 3,000 since August – included civilians, defecting soldiers and those executed for refusing to shoot civilians, but did not include members of the military and other security forces killed by opposition forces, she told the council.

Pillay told the meeting that the Syrian protesters had remained largely peaceful.

“However, reports of armed attacks by opposition forces, including the so-called Free Syrian Army, against Syrian forces have increased,” she told UN envoy

More than 14,000 people were reportedly in detention, at least 12,400 had sought refuge in neighbouring countries and tens of thousands had been internally displaced, she said.

“Independent, credible and corroborated accounts demonstrate that these abuses have taken place as part of a widespread and systematic attack on civilians,”

She asked the council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, Ms Pillay told the council her information was based on credible information from more than 230 witnesses.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s UN ambassador, said Pillay should never have been brought before the council and that the session was part of a “huge conspiracy concocted against Syria since the beginning” and “narrow state interests”.

He also said that Pillay “is not objective, is not fair. She is not genuine in all her approach, in the report she presented… She has trespassed her mandate, she allowed herself to be misused in misleading the public opinion by providing information based on allegations collected from 233 defectors.”

Syria deaths graphic


The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, urged Russia and China to reconsider their position blocking UN action on Syria, saying: “I think it is necessary that those countries in the Security Council which are still hesitating change their mind.

“I am really shocked about what I heard about the atrocities in Syria. We owe this to those who lost their lives,” he said.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud said: “It is scandalous that the council, because of opposition from some members and the indifference of others … has not been able to act to exert pressure on the Syrian authorities.”

But Western envoys, who also included ambassadors from the United States, Germany and Portugal, gave no indication of how they would seek to revive the issue in the council. Lyall Grant said any action would depend on the outcome of Arab League meetings to be held in coming days.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin repeated Russia’s reluctance to enact “regime change” but conceded he too was troubled by the “tragic developments in Syria” and that “there is more in fact in the council that unites us than divides us.”

“The tragedy is that if things were allowed to degenerate and to go in the direction of further provocation, of fanning further confrontation, then maybe (there would be) hundreds of thousands dead.”

The EU has imposed 10 rounds of sanctions on the Syrian government, and the Arab League has suspended its membership. However the UN has so far failed to pass a resolution condemning Damascus.

Russia and China both vetoed a European-led draft at the UN in October. India, South Africa and Brazil have also been reluctant to support action at the Security Council.