Up to 850 Syrians may have been killed in brutal Government crackdowns on protesters, the United Nations human rights office says. Thousands have also been arrested.
The civilians have been killed by forces loyal to the Syrian Government, during two months’ of pro-democracy protests inspired by the Arab spring which saw a wave of change sweep the Middle East and North Africa.
“We again call on the Government to exercise restraint, to cease use of force and mass arrests to silence opponents,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
He said that reports of 700-850 people dead in Syria, from human rights activists, was “quite likely to be genuine”, adding that the UN had lists of names of alleged victims. Thousands have also been arrested.
We again call on the Government to exercise restraint, to cease use of force and mass arrests to silence opponents. UN Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville
Mr Colville said a high-level UN human rights mission was preparing to go to Syria, when it is granted access by the Syrian authorities, as a result of the “worrying reports” of violent crackdowns by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
“We hope to be ready to deploy as soon as we are granted access. We have many reports of use of snipers, use of tanks in a number of towns. The Government is reporting that soldiers and police have been killed, that is why we want to get in there and see for ourselves,” he said.
In the UK, the Foreign Office Political Director Sir Geoffrey Adams called in the Syrian Ambassador, Dr Sami Khiyami, on Friday to express the UK’s strong concerns about the ongoing situation in the country. He warned the ambassador of further sanctions if the violence continues, including travel bans and asset freezes for the highest levels of the regime.
The UN criticism comes as thousands take to the streets in Syria’s fourth-largest city Hama for a pro-democracy protest.
Witnesses told Reuters that thousands had converged on a square in Hama, where the military crushed an uprising in 1982, leading to many deaths.
“I am moving among a huge crowd…they are coming from every direction,” he said.
There have also been reports of demonstrations in Syria’s Kurdish eastern regions, as well as in Damascus, where demonstrators are reported to have chanted: “We want the overthrow of the regime.”
The UN is also concerned about reports of arrest and torture in Bahrain.
Mr Colville said there should be an impartial and transparent investigation of grave violations in Bahrain.
“We continue to receive reports indicating that hundreds of individuals, including health professionals, politicians and human rights defenders arrested in connection with the protest movement are being denied their fundamental legal rights to due process,” he said.
He also announced that Yemen had accepted a visit by a UN human rights mission.
“They suggest a visit at the end of June, we’d like to go rather earlier and we stand ready to deploy,” he said.
Watch: YouTube footage apparently showing the demonstration in Hama. Channel 4 News is unable to independently verify the video.