U.N. Human Rights Council Orders Probe of Syria Massacre

Posted on: June 01, 2012 at 23:13
The U.N. Human Rights Council ordered Friday an independent probe to hunt those guilty of the massacre in Houla, Syria, which rights chief Navi Pillay said could constitute a ''crime against humanity''.

Forty-one of the 47-member council backed a call urging an investigation by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, set up by the council last year to gather evidence on alleged rights abuses there.

Russia, China and Cuba voted against the resolution which they said was ''unbalanced'' as it presumed the guilt of the Syrian authorities.

Ecuador and Uganda abstained while the Philippines was absent.

The resolution stresses the need to hold a transparent and prompt probe ''into violations of international law with a view to hold to account those responsible for widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.''

It asks the Commission of Inquiry ''to urgently conduct a comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry,'' into Houla ''and if possible to publicly identify those who appear responsible for these atrocities.''

It also asks that the probe ''preserve the evidence of crimes for possible future criminal prosecutions or a future justice process.''

The resolution was voted through at a special session of the council to directly address the Houla massacre whose victims included 49 children and which sparked outrage across the world.

In Istanbul, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pledged to see justice done in the Houla massacre.

''We will speak out so that the perpetrators of crimes can be brought to justice,'' he said.

He noted that a U.N. mission in Houla ''was able to give an authoritative and unbiased account on what happened based on eyewitness evidence.''

''Had we not been there on the ground... it would have been another round of unverified claims and accounts.''

But Damascus said a preliminary investigation showed ''armed gangs'' carried out the killings.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement that ''crimes against humanity'' may have been committed and repeated a call for events in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

''The Assad regime is engaged in a war on its own people,'' said U.S. ambassador Eileen Donahoe on the sidelines of the meeting.

''We believe our role at the HRC is to provide the basis for a case that would be brought on crimes against humanity.

''This would provide a basis for the Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC.''

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Denmark's Soren Kragholm said there must be ''no impunity'' for those behind the massacre and that they would be held accountable.

''This includes also the possible referral of the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court by the U.N. Security Council,'' he said.

Russia said it could not back the resolution because it was ''full of phrases which disavow the very idea of an independent inquiry.''

Russian envoy Alexey Borodavkin said the U.N. mission on the ground was already tasked with gathering details of the Houla massacre and ''we don't believe it's useful to have two mandates.''

Borodavkin voiced concern about ''attempts from some countries, before hearing the results of the mission, to already determine who the guilty are.''

Chinese representative Liu Zhenmin said the contents of the resolution were ''neither balanced nor objective'' and that he was ''saddened'' by the division within the council which he said was caused by the ''arrogance of the co-sponsors.''

Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. submitted the draft resolution that condemns the ''outrageous'' killing of the 49 children and highlights the ''continued failure of the Syrian authorities to protect and promote the rights of all Syrians.''

It also calls upon the Syrian government to cooperate fully with the Commission of Inquiry which has so far not been given access to the country.

Pillay's office says most of the victims were summarily executed, and some U.N. officials have said there were suspicions of involvement by Shabiha militiamen.

Daily killings continue in Syria despite the April 12 implementation of a plan drawn up by Arab League and U.N. envoy Kofi Annan which calls for a ceasefire.

More than 13,000 people have died in 15 months of violence, according to the British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Pillay on Friday called on the international community to throw its weight behind Annan's six-point peace plan.

''Otherwise, the situation in Syria might descend into a full-fledged conflict and the future of the country, as well as the region as a whole could be in grave danger,'' she said.

Source:Agence France Presse
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