UN Rights Chief Calls for Independent Probe of Syrian Massacre

Posted June 1st, 2012 at 6:30 am (UTC-5)
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The United Nations human rights chief is calling for an independent investigation into what she said was the “appalling” slaughter last week of dozens of civilians in the Syrian town of Houla, saying the incident may amount to crimes against humanity.

Navi Pillay's comments were provided in a statement Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is holding an emergency session in Geneva to discuss the massacre that killed at least 108 people – nearly half of them children.

The council is debating a resolution presented by the U.S., Turkey, and Qatar that condemns the massacre, which prompted international outrage and rekindled efforts to stem Syria's 15-month-old conflict.

A draft resolution circulated Thursday and seen by VOA would place at least partial blame on the Syrian government for the incident.

U.N. personnel who went to Houla after the May 25 massacre said there were some suspicions of involvement by pro-government shabiha militiamen.

The Syrian government on Thursday blamed the atrocity on armed opposition groups who it said attacked families who would not join anti-government protests. Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., called the Syrian government claim “absurd.”

Meanwhile, opposition activists reported renewed fighting as a rebel commander's deadline passed for the Syrian government to comply with a U.N.-backed peace plan.

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

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

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he “demands” the Syrian government abide by its peace pledges. He said the almost 300-member U.N. military observer team in Syria is not meant to play the role of “passive observer to unspeakable atrocities.”

The U.N. chief also warned that more massacres such as the Houla incident “could plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war … from which the country would never recover.”

U.S. officials on Thursday also warned of a worsening humanitarian situation in Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russia's failure to take decisive action against Mr. Assad will “help contribute” to the very civil war officials in Moscow say they are helping to avoid.

Speaking in Denmark, Clinton said she rejects the Russians' “vociferous…claim that they are providing a stabilizing influence” in Syria. Instead, she said, Moscow is propping up Mr. Assad as his government continues a brutal crackdown on dissent U.N. estimates say has killed more than 10,000 people.

Russia, along with China, has repeatedly blocked the U.N. Security Council from taking punitive action against the Assad government, a longtime Russian ally.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday the U.S. military is prepared for any action against Syria, saying the situation was “intolerable.” But Panetta said he does not foresee a scenario where Washington takes military action without U.N. endorsement.

His remarks came a day after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., suggested that military intervention may be the only remaining option if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the crisis.