UN rights chief: Situation in Syria deteriorating

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GENEVA (AP) — The United States criticized Syria’s envoy for storming out of an emergency U.N. meeting about the crisis in his country Tuesday, saying the walkout and a fiery speech that preceded it demonstrated the “delusional” nature of President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Fayssal al-Hamwi, had accused members of the U.N. Human Rights Council of promoting terrorism and prolonging the crisis by organizing the debate on the situation in his country, where the global body now says over 7,500 people have died since March.

“Anybody who heard the Syrian ambassador should be aware that his comments were borderline out of touch with reality,” Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the U.S. representative to the 47-nation council, told reporters.

“I think it’s a reflection to some extent of what’s going on with the Assad regime itself, holding a referendum that is farcical and a mockery of democratic processes when they’re in the midst of a humanitarian crisis of their own creation,” she said. “I think the Syrian ambassador’s comments were equally delusional.”

Al-Hamwi took the floor shortly after the U.N.’s top human rights official called for an immediate cease-fire in Syria and unhindered access for aid agencies to deliver emergency supplies and evacuate the sick and wounded.

“We are convinced that the real aim behind holding this session today is to cover up for the violence and murder perpetrated by the armed groups against innocent civilians,” Syria’s ambassador told diplomats.

“We are not pretending that the human rights situation in Syria is perfect,” he added. “We are aware that there is a regression in the quality of services usually provided by the government to the population by the regions facing violence. This is due to the armed groups that are using residential areas as bases.”

As diplomats and government officials from 70 countries lined up to express their concern about the deteriorating situation in Syria, al-Hamwi announced that his delegation would withdraw from what he called “this sterile discussion.”

Before storming out of the room, he denounced a planned resolution on Syria as “malicious and prejudiced.”

Members of the Geneva-based council are expected to pass a resolution this week condemning “widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities.”

A draft text supported by many Arab and Western nations says the Syrian regime’s use of heavy artillery and tanks to attack civilian areas has contributed to the deaths of thousands.

The U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe said Tuesday that “well over” 7,500 people have died in Syria violence and that there are “credible” reports that more than 100 civilians are dying in the country daily. Activists groups said Monday that the death toll for 11 months of unrest has now surpassed 8,000 people.

“Unfortunately, the international community has also failed in its duty to stop the carnage, and actions and inactions to date have seemed to encourage the regime in its belief that it has impunity to carry out the wanton destruction of its own civilians,” Pascoe said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday that diplomats are working on a new U.N. Security Council resolution that also would call for an immediate cease-fire in Syria and humanitarian access. But Russia and China have twice before used their veto to block action on Syria in the Security Council, whose resolutions — unlike those of the U.N. rights body — carry legal weight.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited the report of a U.N. expert panel that concluded Syrian government officials were responsible for “crimes against humanity” committed by security forces against opposition members. The crimes included shelling civilians, executing deserters and torturing detainees. Some opposition groups, too, had committed gross abuses, the report said.

The panel has compiled a confidential list of top-level Syrian officials who could face prosecution over the atrocities.

Pillay reiterated her call for Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court “in the face of the unspeakable violations that take place every moment.”

“More than at any other time, those committing atrocities in Syria have to understand that the international community will not stand by and watch this carnage and that their decisions and the actions they take today ultimately will not go unpunished,” she said.


Catherine Gaschka in Paris and Anita Snow at the United Nations contributed to this report.


Frank Jordans can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter

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