News / Middle East

UN Rights Chief Calls for Independent Probe of Syrian Massacre

High Commissioner for Human Rights South African Navanethem Pillay gestures during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva (File)
High Commissioner for Human Rights South African Navanethem Pillay gestures during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva (File)
VOA News
The U.N. human rights chief is calling for an independent investigation into last week's slaughter of dozens of civilians in the Syrian town of Houla, as activists on Friday reported the killing of at least 12 more civilians.

Navi Pillay's comments were provided in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council, meeting in emergency session on Friday in Geneva on the May 25 massacre, which killed at least 108 people, nearly half of them children. She called for the Syrian government to provide full access to investigators to look into the killings, which could constitute crimes against humanity.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.N. action says to the Syrian people "the world stands by you, and we will not ignore your plight."

Houla massacre

The killings in Houla have sparked widespread outrage, with some leading diplomats calling for an international coalition to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Map of Houla, SyriaMap of Houla, Syria
Map of Houla, Syria
Map of Houla, Syria
French President Francois Hollande said Friday any solution to the Syrian crisis "requires the departure of Bashar al-Assad." But Russian President Vladimir Putin, after a meeting with Mr. Hollande in Paris, again rejected the use of the force in Syria, though he told reporters Moscow was seeing "emerging elements of a civil war." 

The two put out a joint statement "pushing for a political solution," with a cease-fire brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan as the starting point.

Envoy's doubts

But the former U.N. secretary-general himself is voicing concerns about his plan. Speaking to reporters in Beirut, Mr. Annan said he is "impatient and frustrated" by the slow implementation of the peace plan he first put forward six weeks ago.

“What is important is that we continue our efforts to find a solution - a solution that leads to a transition in Syria, a democratic transition that fulfills the aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that continued violence and killing "could plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war ... from which the country would never recover."  

The U.N. Human Rights Council is debating a resolution presented by the U.S., Turkey, and Qatar condemning the massacre. The bloodshed in Houla has prompted international outrage and rekindled efforts to stem Syria's 15-month conflict.

New killings

Meanwhile, opposition activists on Friday reported what they say is another mass killing of civilians.

Sipan Hassan of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, told VOA that unidentified gunmen killed 12 workers near the town of Qusair in Homs province on Thursday.

"Twelve workers have been found shot in the head," he said. "They have been killed, but we don't know the circumstances of how they have been killed yet," said Hassan.

Reports say the workers at a state-owned fertilizer plant were shot after their bus was forced to stop at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Qusair. The rights observatory said the area has seen a recent increase in violence between opposition groups and the government.

Both the Qusair and Houla massacres occurred in Homs province, where there is significant support for the opposition.

U.N. personnel who went to Houla after last week's massacre said there were some suspicions of involvement by pro-government "shabiha" militiamen.

A preliminary investigation conducted by the Syrian government blames the atrocity on armed opposition groups. Damascus claims those unidentified groups attacked families that would not join anti-government protests. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., on Thursday called the Syrian government claim "absurd."

Renewed violence

Also Friday, activists reported renewed fighting between the Free Syrian Army and government forces, despite the passing of a rebel commander's deadline for the Syrian government to comply with a U.N.-backed peace plan.

Earlier this week, a general in the Free Syrian Army said his forces will no longer be bound by the U.N. peace plan if the Syrian government fails to take steps to comply with it by midday Friday.

The Local Coordination Committees group said the Free Syrian Army was engaged in "violent clashes" with government forces Friday in the suburbs of Damascus.

The government and the rebels agreed in April to a truce mediated by international envoy Annan. But the fighting has continued, with each side accusing the other of violating the deal.

VOA's Scott Bobb reported from Beirut and Jeff Seldin from Washington.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Yefim Feldman from: Sydney , Australia
June 02, 2012 8:22 AM
Syria is now in a civil war, both sides probably have or will
comit attrocities on their own civilians. The U.N will keep
investigating, making it look like they are doing something.
It is no ones bussiness to get involved in Syria's internal
affairs, let them kill each other. Eventually as they start running
out of people to kill.They might stop. In the mean time both the
West and East can supply weapons to the opposite sides,to
speed things up. A win for Syria, a win for the West, a win for
the East, true a loss for couple of thousand Syrian civilians,
but really now one gives a ____ about them.

by: Cristiano from: Brazil
June 01, 2012 7:25 PM
When will this bloodshed end? For heaven's sake, I'm sure there's been enough death and pain in Syria already!

What is the UN waiting for? It's time to take some action!

by: Anonymous
June 01, 2012 5:25 PM
Now that the UN is on site....and the bodies are there to see...we all know that these are war crimes and Assad must be held accountable like Charles Taylor, Khadaffi or the Serbian war criminals! This is Murder! Freedom for Syria!!

by: Malek Towghi/Tauqee from: USA
June 01, 2012 3:48 PM
It is a pity that the UN takes notice of gross violations of human rights only when some powerful blocks are interested. An ethnic cleansing of the Balochs in Pakistan-occupied Baloch lands has been going on since 1948 which Musharraf-Zardari regimes have now enhanced to a virtual systematic slow genocide -- and the UN continues to look the other way. The irony is that in that vast fanaticism-ridden region the Balochs and the Kurds are the only sincere well-wishers of the civilized world including the US, Russia and India and could become dependable friends.. Dr. Malek Towghi/Tauqee, Liaison, Baloch Human Rights international

by: Not pro-western?
June 01, 2012 2:02 PM
Is your government not pro-western? Ok, no problem, let's start: first, western countries will encourage some people of your country to be "anti-government org.", then encourage and support this "anti-govenment" to make issues and violence that force your government to put down the messy and violence in order to keep your country in order, then western countries start to condemn you "Massacring" "peaceful protesters", then request UN that is controlled by western countries to condemn too, then NATO, the wolf group, is getting ready to attack, then .... Everything is like this model, no difference. Such a joke!!!!!!

by: Anonymous
June 01, 2012 11:08 AM
Richard from: Georgia , you obviously don't know how the UN works. The UN will investigate, declare it genocide on paper, and the International Criminal Court will then put out a warrant for Assads arrest. After that is done, then Nato will go in and do their job of taking him out, dead or alive. But unless the proper procedures are in place nothing will happen. Nato got screwed around going into some countries looking for atrocities or nuclear weapons that didn't exist. When they have an actual warrant for a guy leading a country, they will go in and take him out. Don't be fooled with what UN has capability of doing. UN has helped prosecute war criminals at the Hague.

by: kanaikaal irumporai from: Colombo
June 01, 2012 10:47 AM
It's seems to be comic that this lady is being portaryed as the advocate of human rights by the UN, while the big powers encourage individual regimes to ignore her calls or even to itimidate her, all according to their geopolitical suitability. Being a friend of the west and especially of Mr. wonderfull Barak Husain Obama and Her Majesty the Queen Elisebeth, Sri Lanka intimidates her and is said to gave insulted her with abusive languages. So, why should Mr. Asad, the very friend and ally of Russia and Chaina respect her? The world is not going to be worse off if one more evil regime is allowed to live on, for there are many evils both known and unknown

by: Hassan
June 01, 2012 8:40 AM
Discuss? Discuss? What is there to discuss? There is video tape of the Assad dictatorship committing mass murder. There are satellite pictures confirming the video images that we have seen. We have survivors that have first-hand accounts verifying that it was the Assad dictatorship committing these War Crimes. There is physical evidence on the ground that the munitions came from the Assad forces. Either the U.N. stands up to this tin-plated self-proclaimed “god” who is delusional thinking the world will believe every lie he tells to cover up his crimes against humanity or the U.N. should be disbanded and thrown into trash can of history along with the League of Nations that was unable to stand up against Hitler.

by: Richard from: Georgia
June 01, 2012 7:38 AM
What is it going to take for people to finally realize that the United Nations is completely useless when it comes to armed conflicts. When is the last time they even acted in a decisive manner much less received any concrete results? I love the part about General Ban Ki-moon "demanding" that the Syrian government abide by it's promises. Or what? What is the U.N. going to do... pass a resolution condemning them? Does Syria... or any other country really care about a U.N. resolution? Has that process ever truly been effective and stopped the slaughter of innocent people? Russia and China have no interest in human rights. They simply use the U.N. as a weapon to get back at the west. It's all just a childish control game that results in a tremendous loss of life.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs