GENEVA – The U.N.'s top human rights body harshly condemned Syria on Fridayfor the massacre last week of more than 100 civilians, apparentlyat the hands of government troops and pro-regime thugs. A majority of countries in the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Councilbacked a U.S. and Arab-led resolution condemning "in the strongestpossible terms such an outrageous use of force against the civilianpopulation" in a cluster of villages known as Houla. According to preliminary U.N. |
investigations, at least 49 childrenunder the age of 10 were among the dead — with entirefamilies apparently executed in their homes. The resolution instructs an expert panel to conduct an"international, transparent, independent and prompt investigation"and echoes calls by U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay for the U.N.Security Council to consider referring Syria to the InternationalCriminal Court. The vote marks the strongest condemnation yet of Syria by theGeneva-based rights body, highlighting the increasing isolation ofDamascus in the international community.
Only Russia, China and Cuba voted against the resolution, withUganda and Ecuador abstaining. The Philippines was absent duringthe vote. Russia's President Vladimir Putin said earlier Friday that hiscountry wants to help U.N. envoy Kofi Annan achieve "positiveresults" and prevent an all-out civil war in Syria. Nearly 300 U.N.
observers have been deployed around Syria tomonitor the Annan-brokered cease-fire that was supposed to go intoeffect on April 12, but the peace plan has unraveled amid dailyviolence and the images from the Houla massacre have caused outrageto spike. On his first trip abroad since returning to the presidency, Putintold reporters in Germany that Russia would remain in contact withSyrian President Bashar Assad and his administration. Putin said he believed a political solution in Syria was possible."It requires a certain professionalism and patience," he said. As he spoke in Berlin, Russian diplomats in Geneva dismissed theresolution as "unbalanced" and voted against the text. It is the fifth time that the Human Rights Council has called anurgent meeting on Syria.
The country's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Fayssal al-Hamwi,accused backers of the resolution of trying to divide his country.His deputy Tamim Madani later warned council members that "votingfor this resolution is tantamount to killing the victims (of Houla)again." Syria has accused "armed terrorists" of carrying out the killingsand claims the resolution prejudges the outcome of anyinvestigation. U.S. and European diplomats say the expert panel could hand itsfindings to the Security Council — the only body that canrefer Syria to the International Criminal Court. "We believe our role at the Human Rights Council is to provide thebasis for a case that would be brought on crimes against humanity,"U.S.
Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters inGeneva. "This would provide a basis for the Security Council torefer the matter to the ICC." If the Security Council does take up the question of whether torefer Syria or individual members of the regime to the Hague-basedtribunal, Russia and China would be in a position to use theirveto. They have done so previously to block U.N. action againstSyria.
Rights groups stressed the importance of commissioning anindependent investigation into the Houla killings, identifying theperpetrators and holding them to account. "There is no magic bullet to solve this crisis but Russia bearsspecific responsibility for making the Syrian government stop theviolations now," said Juliette de Rivero, a spokeswoman for HumanRights Watch. Peter Splinter, a spokesman for Amnesty International, said growingglobal condemnation of the Assad regime could force Russia torethink its position. "At some point defense of uncivilizedbehavior by a nation that wants to be seen as civilized can nolonger be maintained," he said. ___ Moulson contributed from Berlin.
John Heilprin in Geneva, DavidRising in Berlin, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed tothis report.
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