The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) plans on officially condemning the Syrian government for its continued widespread and systematic violence during an emergency meeting in Geneva on Tuesday. The urgent debate comes at the specific request of Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Reuters has reported, with strong backing from the U.S., France and the United Kingdom.
144 people died across Syria on Monday, most in a single incident at a checkpoint in Homs, according to a Syrian activist group called the Local Coordination Committees (LCC). The LCC also indicated an entire family from Al-Darwish was murdered in the Khaldiyeh neighborhood, and the corpses of the father, mother, son and three daughters killed were also reportedly mutilated.
The government sent units of an elite armored division into Homs on Tuesday as rebel-held districts came under the heaviest bombardment of a three-week-old offensive. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent evacuated three people from the Homs district on Tuesday including one of two injured Western journalists, Paul Conroy of the Sunday Times, who has been smuggled into Lebanon.
This will be the council’s fourth rebuke of President Bashar al-Assad since the Arab Spring uprising began last year. The 47-member body has no legal force but its moral authority can be used to establish a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The meeting comes four days after UN investigators accused the highest levels of the Syrian government and army of ordering crimes against humanity including murder, rape and torture.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: “The task of the council is to express the disgust of the entire world at the odious crimes that the Syrian state is committing against its people.” Juppe has urged the 47 nations in the council to be prepared to submit a complaint against Syria to The Hague, although British Foreign Secretary William Hague indicated that Russia and China – who previously vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria – are a “major blockage” to any real progress, so a referral to the ICC is unlikely to be imminent.
“As long as we have not halted the massacres, we are impotent, but we are not inactive,” Juppe said, but downplayed any possibility of military intervention which, he said, could have “catastrophic consequences in the region”.
The resolution drafted condemns “the use of heavy artillery and tanks to attack residential areas … that have led to the death of thousands of innocent civilians”. It also voices alarm at worsening humanitarian conditions in areas lacking food, medicine and fuel and calls for aid agencies to be allowed to deliver vital supplies to civilians in heavily-hit areas, especially Homs, Deraa and Zabadani.
“There will be a wide majority of states in favour. It will pass easily,” an Arab diplomat told Reuters ahead of the emergency debate due to start at 10:30 GMT. “We should expect Russia, Cuba and Ecuador to vote against it. On China, is not clear,” he added.
Russia said it would not formally resist the proceedings but warned that any written record of the discussions would be “counterproductive”.
Syrian ally Iran also objected to holding the emergency debate but as an observer and not a council member could not block a consensus decision to go forward.
The opposition in Syria has been fragmented and consists of controversial elements, with the U.S. finding itself aligned with Al Qaeda against the Assad regime.
Michael Hughes is a Washington D.C.-based journalist, a Baloch human rights advocate and a policy analyst for the New World Strategies Coalition – a native Afghan think tank.
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