By Stephen Kaufman
A senior U.S. official says all nations should “heed the call of conscience” in response to the Syrian government’s continued brutal suppression of its people, and should halt all support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, including arms or material transfers and financial support.
Speaking at an urgent debate of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva February 28, Esther Brimmer, the assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, also urged the international community to back former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s efforts as the newly appointed U.N.–Arab League joint special envoy to Syria, and to support a plan put forward by the Arab League and endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly to end the violence.
“Syrian women, men and children face murder and starvation at the hands of their own government, simply because they demand respect for the universal human rights this Council exists to protect and advance,” Brimmer told the session.
“Let our nations demonstrate today that the world stands united with the people of Syria, for it is they who represent their country’s future, just as Assad and his murderous cohort represent its past,” she said.
The Council’s urgent debate was requested by Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. According to press reports, the four countries have drafted a resolution condemning Syria’s “continued widespread and systematic violations,” including using heavy artillery and tanks to attack residential areas. The text reportedly expresses concern at the lack of food, medicine and fuel in some areas, with a call for the Assad regime to allow relief agencies to deliver aid supplies to civilians, particularly in Homs, Deraa and Zabadani, which have been targeted by Syrian security forces.
Brimmer said that, by deliberately bombarding populated cities and towns, the Assad regime has escalated its “outrageous and ongoing crimes” against its people. She said that unless the killing stops and immediate humanitarian access is guaranteed, “this despicable government will murder many more before this heinous chapter in Syria’s history is over.”
On February 4, the U.N. Security Council failed to adopt a resolution backing the Arab League’s proposals for an end to the violence, for the release of political prisoners, and for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to delegate power to his vice president and allow the creation of a national government of unity.
Brimmer said that although 13 members of the Security Council voted in support of the Arab League’s plan, “indefensible vetoes by two permanent members gave Assad cover to accelerate his war on the Syrian people,” referring to Russia and China.
“Bashar al-Assad must go. There must be a Syrian-led democratic political transition that meets the long-suppressed aspirations of the Syrian people,” she said.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay told the Human Rights Council that the situation inside Syria is “dire,” and that the Assad regime needs to declare an “immediate humanitarian cease-fire,” according to press reports.
Pillay called for the situation in the country to be referred to the International Criminal Court, which has the authority to prosecute senior Syrian officials for alleged human rights violations and atrocities.
According to Pillay, around 500 Syrian children have been killed since protests against the Assad regime began in March 2011, and 80 of those killings took place in January. Pillay noted that the human rights situation in the country “has deteriorated significantly since November 2011.”
The Assad government “has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect the population; its forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the state,” Pillay said.