UN rights body split over call for probe in Syria

AFP , Friday 29 Apr 2011

UN Human Rights Council fails to reach a mechanism that put pressures on Bashar el-Assad regime to stop killing protesters

Western nations pressed the UN Human Rights Council Friday to condemn a crackdown on protests in Syria and sought an international probe into the bloodshed but ran into strong opposition.

Russia, China and African and Arab nations in the 47-member body all resisted the US-led pressure, while Syria insisted that it had set up a committee to investigate civilian deaths and blamed violence on "saboteurs".

"To the Syrian government, we are sending a clear and unequivocal message that we will not turn a blind as you arbitrarily imprison, torture and kill your own citizens," US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donohoe told the council.

A revised draft resolution tabled by the United States for endorsement by the Council on Friday sought to condemn "the use of lethal violence against peaceful protestors by the Syrian authorities."

It also urged an end to all human rights violations, watering down an earlier version.

The new resolution also sought to "urgently dispatch a Fact Finding Mission" appointed by the council "to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law... and of the crimes perpetrated."

Human rights groups say the government crackdown has led to at least 453 civilian deaths.

However, Russia and China maintained their opposition to condemnation after they clashed with Washington in the UN Security Council this week, rejecting interference in Syria's internal affairs.

China warned that the special session on Syria called by Washington and 15 mainly western nations "might further complicate the tensions," and "split the council."

African and Arab nations urged dialogue in Syria while welcoming steps taken by Damascus to lift a state of emergency and heralding reforms.

"It is regrettable that by convening this session we are sending the wrong message," the group of Arab nations in the UN said in a statement.

Syria acknowledged that it had experienced "peaceful demonstrations calling for reform" and insisted that security forces were acting against "groups of saboteurs".

"Sixty officers and conscripts have been killed and 300 people have been injured very seriously," the country's ambassador said.

"A committee has been set up to investigate all these cases of civilians who have lost their lives in the violence," he added.

UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang said the UN rights office was still discussing a Syrian offer to allow a mission into the country.

"Let me also underscore that Syria has responsibility to protect its poulation from crimes against humanity," she said, reiterating condemnation of the violence against demonstrators.

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