Syrian children are increasingly the victims of the Assad regime’s repression of opposition forces, a new UN-backed inquiry reports, but despite growing regional pressure on Syria and an appeal from the UN’s top human rights official, the UN Human Rights Council declined Friday to refer the country to the Security Council.
Instead, the council endorsed a Western- and Arab-backed proposal to name a special investigator of Syria's violence – a second-best step that avoids the veto that Russia and China would almost certainly impose on any Security Council action on Syria.
November was the deadliest month for children so far in the eight-month-old revolt of opposition forces against President Bashar al-Assad. At least 56 children were killed in the month, bringing the total to 307 verified child deaths among more than 4,000 killed in the conflict overall, according to the independent inquiry commissioned by the United Nations.
Armed with these and other lengthening tallies of the violence in Syria, and warning of the dangers of a “full-fledged civil war,” Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, urged the UN Human Rights Council to send the matter to the Security Council in New York.
Ms. Pillay says the Security Council should then call on world powers to refer the mounting allegations of the Syrian regime’s “crimes against humanity” to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Yet despite other signs of growing pressure on Assad – especially from the region, where both the Arab League and Syria’s neighbor Turkey have decided to slap economic sanctions on the Assad regime – the 47-member Human Rights Council stopped short of referring Syria to the Security Council.
With any Security Council initiative likely to face insurmountable opposition from permanent members Russia and China, Western powers and Arab countries on the Human Rights Council opted for the less-controversial alternative of naming the special investigator.
A resolution supported by 37 council members deplored Syria’s violence and created a special investigator to look into it, but omitted any mention of the Security Council.
The resolution does call for the "man bodies" of the UN to "urgently" consider Pillay's inquiry into Syria – wording that some UN observers say clearly refers to the Security Council.
"We would have preferred for [the Human Rights Council] to explicitly refer this to the Security Council, but it is clear that the Security Counicl is one of the "main bodies" of the UN," says Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director for Human Rights Watch in New York. The threat of a Russian and Chinese veto "is not reason to drop the ball and not even try" for Security Council action, he says.
Speaking to Friday’s special Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Ms. Pillay warned that failure to stop Syria’s “ruthless repression … can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war.”
Placing the conflict’s toll at well over 4,000 deaths and at least 14,000 people detained, Pillay said the tell-tale signs of civil war were already evident. For example, she said, growing numbers of army defectors are launching increasingly bold attacks against government forces.
Russia and China have highlighted reports of rising attacks by army defectors to argue their case for keeping the international community out of Syria’s internal affairs. Both powers have condemned the regime-led violence, but they also insist that opposition forces are being armed by foreign groups and expatriate anti-Assad organizations focused on deposing the regime.
“The conflict in Syria continues to be fueled by outside forces who are interested in further destabilizing the situation,” Russia’s ambassador to the Human rights Council, Valery Loshchinin, told Friday’s session. “Armed terrorist and extremist groups are being armed and organized, supplied with weapons and money from abroad.”