13 February 2012
States must “act now” to protect Syrian population, Pillay tells General Assembly
NEW YORK – Citing the onslaught on Homs, and reports suggesting widespread and systematic attacks on civilians amounting to crimes against humanity, as well as the rising risk of a humanitarian crisis, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Monday urged states to “act now” to protect the Syrian population.
“Each and every member of the international community must act now to urgently protect the Syrian population,” Pillay said in an address to the UN General Assembly.
“I am outraged by these serious violations,” she told the assembled State representatives. “I am very distressed that the continued ruthless repression and deliberate stirring of sectarian tensions might soon plunge Syria into civil war. The longer the international community fails to take action, the more the civilian population will suffer from countless atrocities committed against them.”
The UN Human Rights chief noted that “the gross, widespread and systematic human rights violations have not only continued, but also sharply escalated” since the General Assembly adopted a Resolution condemning human rights violations by the Syrian authorities on 19 December.
“The failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appears to have emboldened the Syrian Government to launch an all-out assault in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force,” she added, after painting an extremely grim picture of the situation in Homs.
Since 3 February, “the Government has used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to pummel the city of Homs,” Pillay said. “According to credible accounts, the Syrian army has shelled densely populated neighbourhoods of Homs in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas.”
“Medical supplies have been depleted,” she said. “Shells have struck at least three makeshift clinics resulting in casualties. Due to heavy shelling, residents have been effectively trapped in areas under attack. Electricity and communication have been cut off in some neighborhoods. And food remains scarce. The humanitarian situation in Homs is simply deplorable.”
Pillay noted similar accounts of intensifying assault and worsening of humanitarian situation in other parts of the country as well. “The risk of a humanitarian crisis throughout Syria is rising,” she said.
“Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, as cities such as Homs, Hama, Dera’a and Idlib have been blockaded and curfews imposed,” she said. “During the blockades, residents have not been able to obtain water, food and medical supplies. Military and security forces have targeted residential water tanks and water pipes. The blockades had often made it impossible to get the injured to hospitals.”
Pillay listed a series of grave violations relating to hospitals and medical care: “Hospitals have been used as detention and torture facilities,” she said. “Ambulances have come under fire, and many of the injured and sick have been turned away from public hospitals in several cities. Wounded detainees have been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment in military hospitals. Evidence gathered indicates that doctors and medical workers have been pursued, arrested, and tortured by the security forces.”
“Increasingly, most of the wounded avoid going to public hospitals for fear of being arrested or tortured,” she continued. “The injured are largely treated in underground hospitals established in apartments, on farms, and at private homes. Hygiene and sterilization conditions are rudimentary and the mere possession of medical supplies is being punished.”
Pillay told the General Assembly that reports suggest that the Syrian military and security forces “have launched massive campaigns of arrest, arbitrarily detaining thousands of protestors, activists and other suspected of anti-Government sentiments or activities. Some have been involuntarily and forcibly disappeared.”
“Credible information show patterns of systematic and widespread use of torture in interrogation and detention facilities by Security forces,” the High Commissioner said. “According to information provided by army defectors, they received orders from their commanding officers to torture.”
“Children have not been spared,” she added. “Children have been killed by beating, sniper fire and shelling from Government security forces in several places throughout Syria.”
“The Fact-Finding Mission, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria,* and I myself have all concluded that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed in Syria. I have encouraged the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. All Member States must ensure that these crimes do not go unpunished. Yet these crimes continue to be committed as I speak,” she said.”