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UN rights chief says Syria could plunge into civil war as more soldiers defect

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefs reporters
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefs reporters

UN rights chief says Syria could plunge into civil war as more soldiers defect

The United Nations human rights chief warned today that Syria could descend into civil war as more members of the armed forces defect, noting that nearly 1,000 of the estimated 4,000 people who have died in the bloody crackdown on protesters have been members of the security forces.

“This is why I am alerting the world that as you have more and more defectors from security forces this may well develop into a full-fledged civil war,” Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters at UN Headquarters.

“I would say that whatever it is, we would be better placed if we could gain access into the country to assess the situation ourselves. This is why I do believe that having many trained observers in the country will give us a proper understanding, even of his [President Bashar al-Assad] own assertions,” she said.

Mr. Assad claimed in a media interview earlier this week that his administration is fighting against armed gangs and is not targeting civilians.

The report of the independent international commission of inquiry into the nine-month crackdown in Syria released last week concluded that Syrian security and military forces have committed crimes against humanity against civilians, including acts of killings, torture, rape and imprisonment.

The report – based on interviews with more than 200 victims and witnesses of human rights violations – documents widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Syria Government declined the commission’s request to visit the country.

“I point to what the commission of inquiry has factually established – that communities are under siege, people dare not step a foot outside their homes because they are being shot at, and so they pass food from home to home by ropes through windows,” said Ms. Pillay, who is scheduled to brief the Security Council in a closed-door meeting on Syria next Monday.

She said members of the commission of inquiry had learned of a group of villagers who were on their way to deliver food to residents of another village that was under siege when they were shot at and 40 of them killed. A father of a 14-year-old boy showed the commission the pictures of the body of his son who was tortured and killed, she said.

“If we have access, this is what we will present to President Assad because it does not fit the picture as he describes it,” said Ms. Pillay. “Somebody is killing innocent protesters there and we need to establish who,” she added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was on a visit to Kenya today, was asked about the situation in Syria and Mr. Assad’s recent denial of gross human rights violations. Mr. Ban said that the UN assessment of the situation in Syrian has been “very impartial, fair, objective and credible.”