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August 09, 2011

UN Security Council Hears ‘Chilling’ Briefing on Syrian Crisis

European members of the U.N. Security Council are urging Syria to comply with the body’s calls for it to end a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, otherwise, they warn the council will consider further steps to pressure Damascus.

The 15-member council was privately briefed Wednesday afternoon on the situation in Syria by a top U.N. political officer, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.

Afterwards, Britain’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham outlined to reporters what he called a “chilling” and “depressing” briefing.

“It is clear that the military offensive by the regime against its own people continues; an offensive which is brutal, an offensive which is unwarranted and an offensive which is in breech of the regime’s international legal obligations. And just to remind you of the scale of what we are talking about, some 2,000 civilians have now been killed, the vast majority of them unarmed. Some 3,000 civilians have been forcibly disappeared. Some 13,000 remain detained," he said.

The ambassador noted that since the protests began in mid-March, tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in northern Syria and several thousand remain as refugees in neighboring Turkey. He also condemned the lack of access for humanitarian workers and international media.

Speaking on behalf of his three European counterparts on the council, Ambassador Parham underscored some key points the U.N. secretariat made during the closed-door session: that gross human rights violations are being perpetrated; there is no prospect of progress as long as military operations continue against civilians; and that for reform measures to gain credibility the use of force and mass arrests must stop immediately.

Ambassador Parham said the Syrian regime needs to heed the calls that have come from the Security Council, as well as the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Turkey and others to stop the violence and implement real political reforms.

“And if they continue, nevertheless, along their current path, and they fail to heed those calls, then we believe the council must look at taking further steps to keep up the pressure on the Syrian regime to get things onto a better track. And that kind of pressure will be consistent with and complimentary to the pressure that we have now seen coming from the region and from other parts of the international community," he said.

The U.S. Ambassador, Susan Rice, echoed that position, saying Washington would continue and intensify its pressure both through additional U.S.-imposed sanctions, as well as through coordinated efforts with other nations.

Syria’s U.N. envoy, Bashar Ja’afari told reporters that statements by Ambassador Parham and his European counterparts were wrong.

“They tried to manipulate the truth and to hide important facts and elements related to the so-called situation in Syria. Deliberately they condoned and ignored very important steps taken by the Syrian government. Deliberately they ignored and avoided making reference to very important and positive progress that has been achieved in my country," he said.

He gave as examples of that progress the visit of Turkey’s foreign minister to Damascus on Tuesday and the meeting Wednesday between Syrian President Bashar al Assad and delegates from India, Brazil and South Africa, during which, according to a communiqué, Mr. Assad reassured them of his commitment to the reform process and multi-party democracy before the end of this year.

Ambassador Ja’afari also tried to refute accusations that Syria is not allowing in international media to cover the situation saying that the government had taken reporters on a tour of the restive city of Hama on Wednesday. He speculated that in coming days there would be more possibilities for additional reporters to participate in such government-led tours.

But Germany’s deputy ambassador, Miguel Berger, noted that the real issue is not about how long political reforms take. It is, he said, about stopping the killing of peaceful demonstrators immediately and beginning a serious dialogue between the government and protesters.

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