The United Nations Human Rights Council called for a “comprehensive, independent and unfettered” probe into last week’s massacre of more than 100 people in Houla, a cluster of villages in central Syria.
The worst atrocity in the 15-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was carried out by “pro-regime elements” and government forces, the Geneva-based council said in a resolution that was passed by 41 votes today. China, Russia and China voted against the resolution, which was submitted by the U.S., Qatar and Turkey. Ecuador and Uganda abstained.
The mass killing in Houla, where children under age 10 accounted for 49 of the 108 deaths, has sparked symbolic responses such as the ejection of top Syrian diplomats from Western capitals. It hasn’t broken an impasse in the UN Security Council, where veto-wielding Russia continues to block attempts to impose more economic pressure on a country that may be slipping into civil war.
Syrian security forces killed 20 people today, the U.K.- based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement.
Assad’s government has ignored repeated calls by the council to grant access to a Commission of Inquiry examining human-rights violations.
The UN says pro-government shabiha militiamen were responsible for the slaughter in Houla. The Assad government blamed the carnage on anti-government gunmen seeking to ignite sectarian strife and encourage foreign military intervention.
“These acts may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes, and may be indicative of a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations that have been perpetrated with impunity,” UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told the HRC today before the resolution was approved. “There is a need for prompt, independent and impartial international investigations into all serious human- rights violations in Syria, including those that have occurred in Houla.”
Pillay warned that the situation may “descend into a full- fledged conflict” that threatens the future of Syria and the region. The council’s resolution echoes her call for the Security Council to consider referring Syria to the International Criminal Court. The UN’s decision-making body alone can authorize sanctions, referrals to the International Criminal Court and military intervention.
The UN has 291 unarmed military observers and 89 civilian monitors in Syria to oversee a peace plan crafted by UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan. While the U.S. has publicly raised the possibility of expanding the numbers of observers, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and his team are opposed for reasons of safety.
The European Union urged Assad’s government to give the Commission of Inquiry “immediate access” so it can probe the Houla bloodbath. “There must be no impunity for the perpetrators of the crimes committed; those responsible for the violence across Syria will be held accountable for their actions,” the EU said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said today his government doesn’t support either side in the Syrian conflict and believes it’s too early to conclude that Annan’s peace plan has failed. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected his remark and said Russia’s supply of weapons to Assad is propping up the Syrian leader’s government.
Annan, who visited Assad in Damascus in the aftermath of the Houla massacre, is running out of time to bring the government and the opposition into a political dialogue that could eventually persuade Assad to step aside. His progress will be the focus of a June 7 briefing to the Security Council in New York, which he’ll make in person for the first time since he was named peace broker.
The Human Rights Council today asked Annan to brief the organization at its next session, which starts on June 18.
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