Europe wants war crimes probe of Houla massacre

The 47-member rights council is holding an emergency meeting in Geneva to discuss the massacre in Houla.

Geneva: European diplomats were pressing on Friday for the UN`s top human rights body to propose a war crimes probe into last week`s killing of over 100 civilians in Syria, a move that would be fiercely resisted by Russia but also is viewed with misgivings by other nations such as the United States.

Officials from the 27-nation European Union said they want the UN Human Rights Council to pass a resolution that is stronger than a draft tabled by Qatar, Turkey and the United States.

The 47-member rights council is holding an emergency meeting in Geneva today to discuss the massacre in Houla, where the UN says at least 108 people, including 49 children under the age of ten, were killed last week.

"Mostly we are pressing for some stronger language on accountability," said Maria Ulff Moeller, a Danish diplomat whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

The current draft condemns the killings and states that "those responsible for serious violations of human rights must be held accountable," but doesn`t suggest how. It also calls for an expert group to investigate the massacre, but that group has previously been blocked from entering Syria by President Bashar Assad`s regime.

EU officials say they want the resolution to include a call for the UN Security Council in New York to consider referring the massacre to the International Criminal Court. This is something the rights council cannot do on its own. And since Syria isn`t a member of the ICC, under international law only the Security Council can refer it to the Hague-based tribunal.

"We can encourage the Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC, and it`s something we are pushing for," said Moeller.

Human rights groups backed the EU position. "At this stage what we need is a strong resolution requesting ICC referral," said Juliette de Rivero, a spokeswoman for the group Human Rights Watch.

But other nations who favor sharp language critical of Syria are questioning whether the rights body should invoke the war crimes tribunal.

"Obviously we want to hold the violators accountable," said David Kennedy, a spokesman for the US Mission in Geneva. "Ultimately, though, it`s not the role of the Human Rights Council to make recommendations to the Security Council."


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