United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said on Monday that at least 2,600 people have been killed in Syria since demonstrations against the government began in March. By KHADIJA PATEL.
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council, Pillay said: “With regard to Syria, let me note that, according to reliable sources on the ground the number of those killed since the onset of the unrest in mid-March 2011 in that country has now reached at least 2,600.” Pillay was careful, however, to douse the inflammatory rhetoric calling for UN-approved military intervention in Syria. “While crucial, the recourse to UN mechanisms and forums to ascertain circumstances and responsibilities for human rights violations is no panacea. Prevention, I am sure we all agree, is a smarter course of action than pasting together hasty responses once a crisis erupts,” she said.
Last weekend, the secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, presented Syrian President Bashir al-Assad with a 13-point plan detailing Arab proposals to end the bloodshed and usher in reforms. Elaraby optimistically claimed to have made a breakthrough, winning a promise from al-Assad to open dialogue with the opposition and bring the violence to a close, but these promises are no different to previous ones that have only seen further reports of violence.
On Sunday the US government once more issued a demand for al-Assad “to immediately cease all violence against the Syrian people and release all political prisoners. We again call on Assad to step aside and allow the Syrian people to embark upon the democratic transformation they demand.” In August, a US-Turkish initiative that gave al-Assad a grace period of two weeks to genuinely implement required reforms failed, prompting US President Barack Obama to call on al-Assad to step down. Obama’s calls have fallen on deaf ears proving that any sway the Americans may have thought to have held over the Syrian government is superficial. Syria is certainly not cowed by Obama.
Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah estimates that 113 civilians were killed last week, and several activists were tortured in prison. Syrian forces have continued a string of brutal raids storming homes in Deir al-Zor and villages near the restive town of Hama. Government forces insist they are battling armed gangs and the Syrian government has disputed the UN figures countering claims saying only 1,400 had died so far. Syrian government spokesman Bouthaina Shaaban claimed the casualties have so far been evenly split, with 700 government forces and 700 opposition activists been killed.
The Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu in his mediation in Syria indicated that he, at least, believed the Syrian government was facing an armed insurrection. Human rights agencies have differed sharply with conflicting reports of security forces opening fire on unarmed protesters. Allegations of state-sponsored violence continue to proliferate. Last week a prominent Syrian human rights activist, Ghiyath Mattar, died while in the custody of Syrian security forces. The US has been particularly vocal in its condemnation of Mattar’s death hinting that further sanctions against the Syrian regime were imminent.
Alive to the implicit threat of further UN action against Syria, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that he saw no need for additional pressure on Syria, signalling Russia would not support Western efforts to impose UN sanctions on al-Assad. DM
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