UN rights chief mulls Hague court for Syria

Last Updated: Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 11:27

New York: The UN human rights chief is expected to suggest that the UN Security Council refer Syria`s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters to the International Criminal Court, envoys said on Wednesday.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay will address the 15-nation council in a closed-door session on Syria on Thursday, along with UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

"OHCHR (Pillay`s office) have indicated that their Syria report will find evidence that Syria has committed grave violations of international human rights law in its actions dealing with protesters over the past five months," a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Pillay will also say that a "thorough appropriate international investigation is needed”, the envoy said about the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, adding she was "likely to suggest that the ICC would be appropriate”. The ICC is a permanent war-crimes court based in The Hague.

Another UN diplomat said that Pillay was "planning to suggest the idea of an ICC referral" for Syria.

Both diplomats said Pillay`s office considered the allegations too serious to be left to a national Syrian investigation and that an international probe would be needed.

The government`s crackdown in Syria is estimated to have killed at least 2,000 civilians since the protests began.

The council has referred only two cases to the ICC -- the situation in Sudan`s conflict-torn Darfur region and, earlier this year, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi`s crackdown against anti-government demonstrators.

Council diplomats say veto powers Russia and China would be reluctant to vote for a referral of Syria`s case to the ICC at the current time.

Amos told reporters she hoped to send a team to Syria in the near future to carry out a long-delayed UN assessment of the humanitarian situation in areas hit by the crackdown.

"We hope that we are very nearly at the point where a mission will be able to go in and we`ll be able to make assessments," she said in New York.

Assad speaks to Ban Ki-moon

At the beginning of May, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon he would consider allowing a mission in but never gave permission.

If the mission is approved, Amos said it was unclear where exactly it would go, although "areas where there has been fighting, in particular, would be our priority”.

Ban spoke on the telephone with Assad on Wednesday, who told Ban the mission could come to Syria, although he did not say when, a UN official said on condition of anonymity.

When Ban spoke with Assad on August 06, he told him the use of military force against civilians must stop.

The UN Security Council ended months of deadlock on August 03, when it condemned the violence in Syria and urged Damascus to allow aid workers into the country.

Western diplomats say they would like the council to take further action against Syria, but Russia and China, along with temporary council members South Africa, Brazil and India, have been reluctant to ratchet up the pressure on Assad.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special envoy for children and armed conflict, said in a statement that her office had received "credible allegations of children being killed or wounded in security operations against civilians in Syria”.

"There are also allegations that children have been tortured by the security forces," she said. "State parties have a duty to protect children in any police or military operations and I call on the Syrian authorities to fulfil their obligations."

Bureau Report



First Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 11:27

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