Published on 23 Feb 2012 Sections ,

Injured journalists join calls for ceasefire in Syria

Journalists injured in the attack that killed Marie Colvin appeal for a ceasefire to allow them to receive urgent medical help, joining calls from the ICRC for a daily pause in fighting.

In a video posted online (see below) freelance photographer Paul Conroy said he had sustained three wounds to his leg, and was currently being looked after by the Free Syrian Army medical staff.

The French journalist Edith Bouvier [pictured], whose leg is badly broken in the attack posted a video online asking for a short-term ceasefire so she can be safely evacuated to receive emergency treatment. The Le Figaro journalist, who is with a French photographer, asked for France’s help in getting out.

Also on Thursday, independent UN investigators said they had compiled a list of names of commanding officers and officers they believe are responsible for such crimes, and called for them to face prosecution.

The UN-commissioned panel said Syrian forces are guilty of shooting dead unarmed women and children, shelling residential areas, and turning hospitals into torture centres – all of which was ordered from the “highest level” of army and government officials.

The humanitarian situation is so challenging, and our ability to bring resistance to affected people has been so restricted, that in order to bring relief – to help the wounded and offer some assistance – we need this daily pause. Sean Maguire, ICRC

The International Community of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called for a daily two-hour ceasefire from both government and opposition forces to allow aid its Red Crescent workers in to help.

“The humanitarian situation is so challenging, and our ability to bring resistance to affected people has been so restricted, that in order to bring relief – to help the wounded and offer some assistance – we need this daily pause,” ICRC spokesman Sean Maguire told Channel 4 News.

A meeting of the Friends of Syria, backed by western powers and the Arab League, will seek international agreement tomorrow in Tunis on how to end the violence. The Syrian National Council said it would call on Russia to persuade President Assad to allow safe passages for humanitarian convoys.

“Those reluctant for a political solution, such as Russia, may have to cooperate on humanitarian assistance. I don’t see how Russia or China can be opposed if it is negotiated with them,” said SNC senior official, Basma Kodmani.

‘Credible and consistent’ evidence

Verifying information from Syria has been almost impossible, especially over the last 20 days of the intensified bombardment of Homs, because of difficulty in accessing areas being attacked.

But in compiling its report, the UN interviewed under 400 victims and witnesses and then used satellite imagery of areas where reported violations occurred to corroborate multiple accounts.

“The commission received credible and consistent evidence identifying high and mid-ranking members of the armed forces who ordered their subordinates to shoot at unarmed protesters, kill soldiers who refused to obey such orders, arrest persons without cause, mistreat detained persons and attack civilian neighbourhoods with indiscriminate tanks and machinegun fire,” the report to the UN Human Rights Council read.

Syrian authorities could not be reached for comment, but in January they called the previous UN report from November, which alleged that the regime had carried out atrocities, “totally false” and accused “armed terrorist groups” of the named crimes.

The report found that rebel forces led by the Free Syrian Army were guilty of abuses, including killing and abductions, “although not comparable in scale”.

More on Syria: Watch the Channel 4 News special report from a journalist inside Homs

Military Intervention

The international community is coming under more pressure to consider military intervention in the country. Opposition groups in Syria are divided as to whether this would serve to help, or hinder their aim of overthrowing President Assad and his regime.

Foreign secretary William Hague said that military intervention was not an option, without authority from the UN. “Tightening the diplomatic stranglehold” on the country was the best way forward, he told the BBC, adding the UK is “playing a leading role” in the international response to the situation.

According to the Violations Documentation Centre, a network of activists in Syria and abroad quoted in the UN. report, 6,399 civilians and 1,680 army defectors were killed in the violence in Syria up to February 15.

The United Nations estimate that 5,400 civilians have died in the uprising against Assad, which began in March last year.

In addition to the fatalities, thousands of people are thought to be in detention – 18,000, according to the Violations Documentation Centre.

The ICRC told Channel 4 News that its negotiations with the Syrian government about access to detainees are ongoing. “They haven’t been successful so far, and we have had no access to them,” said Mr Maguire.