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UN: Human Rights Violations in Syria Escalating

  • Lisa Schlein

Debris from damaged buildings after gunmen stormed the headquarters of Al-Ikhbariya news channel near Damascus, June 27, 2012, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

Debris from damaged buildings after gunmen stormed the headquarters of Al-Ikhbariya news channel near Damascus, June 27, 2012, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

GENEVA - U.N. investigators say the situation in Syria "is dangerously and quickly deteriorating." They say gross violations of human rights, including torture and summary executions, are escalating and being committed by both sides. The investigators also presented their findings about a massacre in the Syrian town of Houla in May.

More than 100 people were killed during the massacre in Houla, a village in the Syrian province of Homs. The head of the U.N. investigating team, Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, says it is not possible to determine with any certainty who carried out the killings.

He says the U.N. Commission of Inquiry does not rule out the possibility of anti-government fighters being responsible. But, he adds, this is considered very unlikely.

“Inconsistencies in the available evidence hindered our ability to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time. Nevertheless, we consider that forces loyal to the government may have been very responsible for many of the deaths. We will continue our investigation until the end of our mandate,” said Pinheiro.

Syria has never allowed the United Nations to conduct investigations inside the country. But this may now change. Pinheiro confirms that for the first time, he was able to visit Syria over the weekend and talk with senior officials. He says he believes this may pave the way for the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to begin working inside Syria.

The 20-page report submitted to the U.N. rights council describes gross violations of human rights committed by Syrian government forces and loyal militia. It cites unlawful arrests and detention, torture and other forms of ill treatment. It accuses them of sexual violence against men, women and children.

The U.N. investigators also presented evidence of killings, torture, and abductions of civilians committed by armed opposition groups. They say they have reports that anti-government armed groups are using children as medical porters, messengers and cooks, exposing them to risk of death and injury.

Syrian Ambassador Faisal Khabbaz Hamoui accused the investigators of presenting information that comes from a biased media and which does not represent the truth. He said the crisis in Syria is not a result of peaceful protests, but rather, it is a genuine war financed from abroad.

Ambassador Hamoui said he rejects the defamatory statements and insults hurled at his country.

“For that reason, we will not participate in this politicized meeting, flagrantly politicized meeting whose only purpose is to attack Syria and its people,” he said.

Then the Syrian ambassador stormed out of the room.

The international envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, confirms that a ministerial meeting to discuss the Syrian conflict will take place in Geneva on Saturday. He says invitations have been sent to foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council as well as to officials from other influential states.

Iran does not appear on the list, although Annan has stated his desire to have Tehran attend. The United States opposes Iran’s participation in these high-level talks.
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