UNITED NATIONS — As international efforts to shift the direction in Syria from armed conflict to political transition continue with little progress so far, the United Nations's top human rights official warned Monday that the crisis
risks escalating and that both sides are responsible for serious abuses.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters that the provision of arms to Syrian government forces and the armed opposition is fueling violence, and that any further militarization of the conflict must be avoided.
Pillay put the blame on both sides and said the government had committed numerous violations.
“Indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, targeted killings of activists and opposition supporters, arbitrary detentions, torture and rape as well as attacks on hospitals and clinics, and using health facilities for military operations,” she said.
Pillay also detailed violations by the opposition. “The violations on part of opposition forces include killings of suspected government informers and perceived collaborators; the increasing use of improvised explosive devices causing civilian deaths and injuries. And we have credible reports that indicate that armed groups have also taken over at least one medical facility for military purposes,” she said.
Pillay said she repeated her call to the Security Council urging the U.N.’s most powerful body to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
“I believe that the evidence points to the commission of crimes against humanity," she said. "The government of Syria attributes these violations to terrorists. The government should grant independent investigators access to the country to verify this information. I stand ready to send my staff to investigate this allegation on the part of the government.”
As the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, or UNSMIS, enters a third week of suspension due to escalating violence on the ground and its future is in doubt, Navi Pillay urged the Security Council to strengthen and support the 300 unarmed observers, so they can monitor and report.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the council will be discussing the mission’s future as the July 20 deadline for renewing its mandate approaches. He said one thing is clear, the monitors by themselves cannot stop the violence. For that, he said, a political process is needed.
“So the question will be - but we will have to think about it - 'Are we going to withdraw all the mission or part of the mission? Are we going to keep the observers in the region or are we going to keep them in Damascus?' Of course, it will depend on what is going to happen in the coming days. If by any chance there is a political process starting, of course, it will be different and the observers will be useful and even necessary. If it’s not the case, I think we will have to look at the options from closing the mission to downgrading it,” said the ambassador.
But the possibility of a political transition starting soon remains doubtful, as Syrian opposition groups rejected the Geneva meeting’s roadmap for a political transition, saying vague language that leaves open the possibility of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad being part of an interim government is unacceptable.