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UN Human Rights Chief Recommends Syria to the International Criminal Court

Posted on the 14 December 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost

UN Human Rights chief recommends Syria to the International Criminal Court

A poster of President Assad of Syria. Photocredit: Martijn.Munneke

The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has condemned Syria and suggested to the Security Council that it be referred to the International Criminal Court. Pillay said that 5,000 had been killed in the conflict over the past nine months of the uprising – including 300 children. 14,000 are thought to have been arrested, and 12,400 have fled. The Syrian government claims that 1,000 of its police and troops have been killed. These figures are, however, approximate, as there are no independent monitors on the ground, and international journalists have been banned. A report is due to be released on Thursday by the Human Rights Watch, which will name Syrian commanders who’ve been given “shoot to kill” orders, reported The Financial Times.

The Free Syrian Army, comprised of army defectors, has been fighting back against government forces, and are mostly based on the Turkish border. The official line, reported The Daily Telegraph, is that unrest is caused by terrorists and armed gangs. President Bashar al-Assad’s family has been ruling the country for 40 years; this uprising presents a serious challenge to his regime.

Russia and China blocked a Security Council resolution condemning Syria in October: now Russia has stepped in to accuse the West of an “immoral” stance. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, says that Western countries should be condemning opposition forces as well, claming that they wanted to provoke a “humanitarian catastrophe” in order to gain foreign help, reported the BBC.  China and Russia have drafted an alternative resolution, which wants both sides in the Syrian uprising to end the violence. Meanwhile, the United States of America, the European Union and the Arab League have put in place economic sanctions.

Commentators view Pillay’s stance as a good thing; and insist that Assad will need the continued support of Russia and China to remain in power.

“It is based on the evidence and the widespread and systematic nature of the killings, the detentions and the acts of torture that I felt that these acts constituted crimes against humanity and I recommended that there should be a referral to the International Criminal Court”, said Navi Pillay, quoted on the BBC.

Pillay misled? Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador at the UN, claims that Pillay has been misled “by providing information based on allegations collected from 233 defectors”, according to the BBC.

“It’s not just the humanitarian situation we have to worry about but the risk that Syria slides into civil war and the whole region is set on fire”, said Gerard Araud, the French Ambassador to the UN, quoted on the The Financial Times.

What next for the region? Nobody’s sure: The PakTribune took the angle that these figures will add weight to those who want international intervention. The Financial Times added that the uprising was stoking fears that the conflict in Syria will become “protracted and violent”, and risk “destabilising the whole region.”

“ We just heard a really distressing briefing from Mrs Navi Pillay. As one of our colleagues said it was the most horrifying briefing that we’ve had in the Security Council over the last two years”, said Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, quoted on ABC News.

Syria should let in monitors. Ian Black in The Guardian said that Syria’s fury at Pillay’s announcement was “predictable.” But the country need not worry – it won’t happen whilst Assad still has the backing of Russia and China. The condemnation echoes that of Libya’s referral to the International Criminal Court – which was backed by Russia and China; but their hackles rose when Nato was asked to intervene – which they saw as “a mandate for regime change by stealth.” They want now to “prevent the Libyanisation of the Syrian crisis.” Using the ICC is “controversial” – in Libya’s case, it was seen as “premature and self-defeating”, since it made Gaddafi’s options limited – ie, he couldn’t retire or go into exile, since countries signed up to the ICC are “obliged to hand over suspects.” Notice that Pillay hasn’t named anyone. Syria’s claim that the figures are based on defectors’ estimates could be easily checked – by allowing human rights monitors into the country. “But Damascus is refusing to do that.”

At least the UN’s acting properly. The leader in The Independent said that the UN has “not acquitted itself badly.” It’s put pressure “on doomed regimes, urged restraint on panicked governments, and condemned violence ordered by leaders against their own people.” Pillay has made clear the scale of the deaths in Syria. Her conclusion shouldn’t “surprise anyone”, as these figures don’t “seem out of proportion.” Russia is being immensely cynical, and we should only see its comments in relation to its own problems. But military intervention isn’t on the cards – it’s too risky, and we don’t even know whether it really worked in Libya. At least Pillay’s threat has sent “a message – one that Bashar al-Assad and his security forces would do well to heed.”

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