UN Human Rights Chief: Further Militarization of Syria Must Be Avoided

Posted July 2nd, 2012 at 8:10 pm (UTC-5)
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The United Nations human rights chief says the continued arming of both sides in Syria is fueling violence and must be halted at all costs.

Navi Pillay said Monday in New York that both the Syrian government and the opposition are responsible for numerous human rights violations. She accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of indiscriminately firing on civilians and hospitals, along with rape, torture and targeting of opposition supporters for death.

Pillay said those trying to rid Syria of the Assad government have murdered suspected informers and alleged collaborators, and are using improvised bombs that have killed civilians.

President Assad blames the violence and civilian deaths on terrorists. Pillay is asking the Syrian government to let independent investigators into the country to verify that claim.

Russia and China have been major backers of President Assad while U.N. officials say Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supplying arms to the opposition.

Also Monday, Turkish state media reported that 85 Syrian soldiers — including a general and other officers — defected to Turkey. It is one of the largest single groups of army defections from Syria so far

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the international plan for a transitional government in Syria is meant to appeal to Syrians, including those in the military, who she says have grave discomfort with Mr. Assad. She says they worry about the future of their country and believe that President Assad is taking them nowhere.

Syrian opposition groups are rejecting the transition plan, adopted at an international conference in Geneva. Russia insisted on a compromise that leaves open the possibility of Mr. Assad being part of the interim government. Opposition members call the plan “ambiguous” and “a farce.”

But Nuland says the plan is structured in a way that anyone who fails to meet the approval of the other candidates for the transitional government would not be allowed to serve. In theory, this would make it impossible for Mr. Assad or any of his friends to be part of Syria's future.

In Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby is urging the fragmented Syrian opposition to unite. Elaraby is chairing a two-day meeting of 250 opposition figures. He is telling them “not to waste this opportunity” to overcome their differences.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said Monday that a “weak and disorganized” opposition would only benefit the Assad government. He said Damascus is making a futile attempt to “reverse the course of history.”

“There will be a transition and change in Syria. It is inevitable, and there will be a new administration and democratic regime in Syria eventually. It must be clear that only the Syrian people are to decide about the future of any agreement on their own country.”

Anti-government fighters based in Syria are boycotting the Cairo meeting. The Free Syrian Army criticized the talks for rejecting foreign military intervention and ignoring plans for buffer zones, humanitarian corridors and an air embargo.

Fighting continued inside Syria on Monday, as government helicopters and artillery pounded rebel-held areas across the country, including the Damascus suburb of Douma and the central city of Homs.