Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon accused Syria’s government of crimes against humanity, including using hospitals for torture, as its forces shelled dissidents before a UN vote to denounce President Bashar al- Assad.
“We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10 years old jailed and abused,” Ban said today at a news conference in Vienna. “We see almost certain crimes against humanity.”
Syrian security forces extended a two-week artillery attack on the city of Homs, raided homes outside the capital, Damascus, and carried out attacks in the southern province of Daraa, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. At least 10 defectors and four civilians were killed today in Hama, north of Homs, from shelling, the observatory said.
The UN’s 193 members will vote today in New York on a non- binding resolution denouncing Assad. About 5,400 Syrians have died since opposition forces began protesting the president’s rule in March, the UN says. A binding Security Council resolution prodding the president to resign was vetoed by China and Russia Feb. 4. Attacks on the dissidents intensified after the veto.
Assad has blamed the revolt, which is the strongest challenge to his rule since he took office after his father died in 2000, on “terrorists” and foreign enemies. The government announced a Feb. 26 referendum on a new constitution yesterday. A draft published on the Syrian Arab News Agency’s website promises “political pluralism” and democratic elections and would limit presidents to two seven-year terms.
“It’s their decision to have a referendum, but what is important at this time is that the Syrian authorities must stop killing their own people,” Ban said after attending a conference in the Austrian capital. “This violence should stop from all sides, whether by national security forces or by opposition forces.”
The UN is seeking ways to open up besieged towns for humanitarian-aid deliveries, Ban said.
Mazen Darwish, a human-rights activist, was arrested today at his Damascus office along with his wife, a Syrian opposition leader, Louay Hussein, said in a phone interview. Darwish was also detained at the start of the revolt last year and later released as Assad tried to ease tensions by freeing political prisoners, appointing a new government and lifting a 48-year-old emergency law put in place when the ruling Baath Party came to power in a coup.
“Most of the wounded avoid going to public hospitals for fear of being arrested or tortured,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Feb. 13 in New York. “Credible information shows patterns of systematic and widespread use of torture in interrogation and detention facilities by security forces.”
The Arab League has called for the formation of an Arab-UN peacekeeping force, a proposal rejected by Syria. Russia would support a UN role in Syrian peacekeeping if outside intervention isn’t allowed and the opposition agrees to a cease-fire, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday.
China’s vice foreign minister, Zhai Jun, will travel to Syria Feb. 17-18 for talks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in Beijing today. China will “play a constructive role in the mediation” of the conflict, Liu said.
--Editors: Eddie Buckle, Jeffrey Donovan
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at firstname.lastname@example.org; Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Hertling at firstname.lastname@example.org; Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com