The UN commissioner for human rights says Syria's humanitarian crisis is dire and worsening, as the death toll among civilians mounts. Amid fresh condemnation for the regime, there is still some hope of progress.
The humanitarian situation in Syria is growing increasingly worse as government forces continue their onslaught of Homs, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said on Tuesday.
Pillay said during a special meeting of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in Geneva that her office had received reports of "massive campaigns of arrest" by the Syrian military and security forces, and that many civilians have been caught in the crossfire between the government and its opponents.
"There must be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the fighting and bombardments," Pillay said. "The Syrian army has reportedly used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to cordon off cities, and shelled densely populated neighborhoods in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas."
She added that "hundreds of people have reportedly been killed since the start of this latest assault in the beginning of February 2012," and that an estimated 500 children have died in the violence. The UN itself now estimates more than 7,600 people total have been killed since the uprising began.
Resolution number four
The UN Human Rights Council discussed a new resolution condemning the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and calling on him to stop attacking civilians, and allow aid groups to do humanitarian work. Syria has repeatedly placed blame for the violence on the rebels, who it says are backed by foreign groups seeking to destabilize the country.
"If the session of today aims at guaranteeing humanitarian assistance, the Human Rights Council is not the appropriate forum," Syria's ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui said. He later walked out on the discussion, saying its "real aim is to cover up for the violence and murder perpetrated by armed groups against innocent civilians."
The draft resolution was the UNHCR's fourth on Syria since the anti-government uprising and subsequent crackdown began nearly one year ago. Action in the much more powerful Security Council has been halted by vetoes from Russia and China.
China on Wednesday told the Arab League that it backs a ceasefire and a proposal to provide Syria with international humanitarian aid.
'War crime argument'
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad fitted the description of a "war criminal" for violence against his own people.
"I think that based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told a Senate subcommittee in Washington looking at foreign operations.
However, Clinton stopped short of calling for that designation to be made by the international community, saying such a step would limit "options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power."
The condemnation came amid reports that the 15-nation Security Council was also drafting a fresh resolution that would focus on the humanitarian crisis in parts of Syria.
acb, rc /slk (AP, AFP)