GENEVA — The international community is failing to meet its obligations to victims of Syria’s conflict, the United Nations’ top human rights official said Monday, invoking the responsibility of governments to protect civilians of another country from war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
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“Appalling violations of the most basic human rights are occurring in Syria, and I fear that we in the international community are failing to meet our fundamental obligations to the victims,” Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in an address opening a session of the Human Rights Council.
“We have agreed that we have a duty to protect our fellow human beings — even if they are born in other countries; and even when they are being crushed by governments that have a claim to sovereignty over their territory,” Ms. Pillay said, urging states “to make every effort to forge an end to this humanitarian disaster.”
Ms. Pillay stopped short of calling for direct intervention in Syria, instead repeating an appeal she has consistently made for the Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to prosecute war crimes suspects.
Her statement preceded a special Human Rights Council session on Syria called by Qatar, Turkey and the United States, expected in the next few days. A new report by a commission of inquiry into human right abuses in Syria is expected early next month. Since it was set up in August 2011, the commission has compiled lists of names of units, individuals and government agencies identified as responsible for human rights abuses to assist future prosecution by a national or international tribunal, but only the Security Council or the concerned country can refer the issues to The Hague court.
Ms. Pillay said all parties to Syria’s conflict had shown “flagrant disregard of international law and human life,” citing the government’s indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force and targeting of civilian locations such as schools and hospitals as well as “gruesome crimes” by antigovernment forces, including torture and executions.
Ms. Pillay called for safe passage for civilians trying to escape the embattled town of Qusayr and voiced concern at reports that hundreds of civilians had been killed or injured by indiscriminate shelling and that thousands remained trapped by the fighting in the area.
Ms. Pillay also took the United States to task for its failure to close its detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, citing it as “an example of the struggle against terrorism failing to uphold human rights.”
More than half the 166 detainees still held there have been cleared to return to their home countries or third countries and their continued detention amounted to arbitrary detention in breach of international law, she said. “The injustice embodied in this detention center has become an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists,” she added.