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International community must not become 'numb' to atrocities in Syria – UN rights chief

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

International community must not become 'numb' to atrocities in Syria – UN rights chief

The international community must act to stop the conflict in Syria and ensure those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable, the United Nations human rights chief said today following reports of massacres in Baniyas, as well as displacement of civilians due to military build-up in Qusayr.

“We should not reach the point in this conflict where people become numb to the atrocious killing of civilians,” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “The increasingly brutal nature of the conflict makes international efforts to halt the bloodshed imperative […] but we need a much greater sense of urgency.”

Images of piles of bloodied and burned bodies, including of small children and babies, have been emerging – allegedly taken after Government forces and militia overran al-Bayda and other parts of Baniyas last week.

“These images, if verified, indicate a complete lack of regard for the lives of civilians,” Ms. Pillay said. “There needs to be a careful investigation of each and every incident like this.”

Ms. Pillay also expressed alarm at reports of a major military build-up around the western town of Qusayr, saying she feared further atrocities if the area was overrun. According to her Office (OHCHR), Government forces and pro-Government militias around the area have been displacing local civilian population, in preparation of what could be a large-scale attack to uproot the armed opposition.

“Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture, constitute very serious crimes,” she said. “Our concern is all the greater given recent information reaching our team on the ground in neighbouring countries that Government forces are continuing to resort to indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in residential areas.”

Witnesses, many of whom had suffered serious injury such as loss of limbs, told UN human rights monitors their homes had been shelled during attacks from February to mid-April.

“We are getting consistent testimonies that suggest Government forces are directly targeting key life-sustaining entities such as bakeries and pharmacies, hospitals and schools where civilians are sheltering,” Ms. Pillay said. “Depending on the circumstances, these attacks may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.”

Opposition forces have also committed human rights violations as anti-Government groups operate and hide within densely populated areas, endangering civilians. They are also increasingly resorting to abductions and the taking of hostages, and Ms. Pillay said she is particularly concerned by allegation that some fighters are engaging in forced marriages.

Ms. Pillay renewed her call to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“I believe that serious human rights violations and other acts amounting to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity have been committed. We must make it clear to both the Government and the armed opposition groups that there will be clear consequences for the people responsible for these crimes.”