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.

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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.

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