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UN Rights Group Slams Syrian Government

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay addresses the 19th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, February 27, 2012.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay addresses the 19th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, February 27, 2012.

The U.N.'s top rights official, Navi Pillay, opened an emergency session on the crisis in Syria with a strong condemnation of the government’s increasingly violent attacks against its people. Pillay’s call for a stop to the killing received widespread support from delegates attending the special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay told an overflow crowd that the situation in Syria has seriously deteriorated since February 13. That is when she appealed at the U.N. General Assembly for urgent action to protect the Syrian people from the violent government crackdown and rise in casualties.

“Since then, my office has received disturbing reports of a rapidly deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation. Recent reports further indicate that Syrian military and security forces have launched massive campaigns of arrest, arbitrarily detaining thousands of protesters, as well as activists and others suspected of anti-government activities,” Pillay said.

Pillay called for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire to end the shelling and violence. She said the violations should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

The Syrian representative to the council, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, dismissed Pillay's criticisms, saying the council session was an attack against Syria. He charged that the council was a pawn of Syria's opponents who want to prolong the crisis through terrorism. Hamoui spoke through an interpreter.

“Considering the fact that the concepts of protection and humanitarian intervention are being manipulated in a flagrant manner for political reasons, my delegation declares its withdrawal from this sterile discussion. We also declare that we do not recognize the legitimacy of this session," Hamoui stated. "Nor the legitimacy of any malicious and prejudiced resolutions it may adopt.”

And, with that, the Syrian delegation staged a walkout. But the act of defiance did little to change the minds of other member states.

Representatives speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, the European Union and Arab nations called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to immediately stop the killing of civilians.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer pressed the Syrian government to grant humanitarian access for the delivery of food, water and medical aid.

“In the coming weeks, this council must extend the mandate of the commission of inquiry, so it can continue to investigate and document the gross human rights violations being committed in Syria," Brimmer said. "Providing evidence to support accountability for senior Syrian officials who planned and perpetrated these atrocities. Finally, Bashar al-Assad must go.”

Syria's ally Russia said the rights council is politicized and presenting a one-sided evaluation of the violence in Syria. The Russian envoy to the council said attempts to instill democracy in Syria through force were doomed.