News / Middle East

UN Human Rights Council Condemns Syria

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay, Jan. 2011 (file photo).
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay, Jan. 2011 (file photo).
Margaret Besheer

The U.N. Human Rights Council has strongly condemned “the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights” in Syria where the government is entering its ninth month of a bloody crackdown on dissenters.

A Look At Syria's Main Opposition Groups

  • Syrian National Council:

    - Turkey-based coalition of varying ideologies is Syria's largest opposition grouping.
    - Secular dissident Bourhan Ghalioun announced the council's formation in October and said it rejects foreign intervention. Rejects dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad's government and has been urging him to resign.
    - Has created a general assembly, a general secretariat and an executive committee whose members will chair the council on a rotating basis.

  • National Coordination Committee:

    - Primarily based in Syria.
    - Wants the government to enact reforms though dialogue and by building new civilian institutions.
    - Headed by Hassan Abdul-Azim, who has been demanding an end to President Assad's crackdown as a condition for any dialogue between the government and the opposition.

  • Free Syrian Army:

    - Comprised of military defectors.
    - Initially formed to protect civilians but has increasingly gone on the offensive against pro-government forces.
    - Activists say the group launched a high-profile attack Wednesday against a military intelligence complex near Damascus. It used rockets and other weapons to damage the building. Also, the group says it has created a temporary military council that intends to unseat President Bashar al-Assad's government.
    - The group claims to have at least 15,000 members but those claims have not been independently verified.
    - Colonel Riad al-Asaad formed the group shortly after he defected in July.

During an emergency session convened Friday in Geneva, the U.N. rights body overwhelmingly adopted a resolution that will establish a special investigator to probe human rights abuses in Syria.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the Human Rights Council’s 47 member states that more than 4,000 people have been killed since the crackdown began in mid-March, including 307 children. She said tens of thousands of people have been arrested and some 14,000 remain in Syrian jails.

Earlier this week, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry delivered its initial report, which concluded that Syria's security and military forces have committed crimes against humanity. Pillay urged the U.N. Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court at The Hague and said the international community needs to urgently act to protect the Syrian people.

“The Syrian authorities’ continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war," said Pillay. "In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people.”

In a vote of 37 in favor, four against and six abstentions, the Human Rights Council strongly condemned the violence and established a special rapporteur to investigate the situation of human rights in Syria.

Russia, China, Ecuador and Cuba were the four members who voted against the measure, while all four of the Human Rights Council’s Arab members were among the states supporting the resolution.

The resolution stops short of explicitly referring the commission’s report on Syria to the U.N. Security Council -- which could then refer the matter to the International Criminal Court -- but it does charge the U.N. Secretary-General with taking “appropriate action” and transmitting the report to “all U.N. relevant bodies” which could include the General Assembly or Security Council.

Speaking before the vote, Syria’s envoy in Geneva, Faysal Khabbaz Hamwi, dismissed the draft resolution as “one-sided” and “biased.” He urged members not to vote for it, saying it would not help the Syrian people.

“In addition to the false message they are addressing to the situation in my country, we would have hoped to have a more balanced draft resolution that would call on ceasing all forms of armed violence in my country," said a translator on Hamwi's behalf. "We would have liked the draft resolution to call on all sections of the Syrian people to start an effective, real national dialogue to put an end to the crisis. Nevertheless, it did not refer to that whatsoever.”

As the death toll continues to climb, international pressure on Syria has been intensifying, with the European Union, the United States and the Arab League all separately sanctioning the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

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