(New York) - United Nations Security Council members should support a resolution demanding an immediate end to the Syrian government's brutal crackdown against largely peaceful demonstrators, Human Rights Watch said today. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), "non-governmental organizations and others are now reporting that the number of men, women and children killed since the protests began in March has exceeded 1,100, with up to 10,000 or more detained."
"The Security Council's complete silence in the face of mass atrocities against the people of Syria is emboldening the Syrian government in its bloody crackdown," said Philippe Bolopion, UN director at Human Rights Watch. "A veto by Russia and China to protect the Syrian government and block efforts to stop the killings would be a serious betrayal of Syria's beleaguered citizens."
Despite the efforts of Syrian authorities to prevent access to the country, Human Rights Watch researchers have conducted dozens of interviews inside Syria and established that Syrian security forces have killed hundreds of protesters and arbitrarily arrested thousands, many of whom, including children, have been beaten and tortured. The systematic and deliberate nature and scale of the government's abuses in the Daraa governorate, where at least 418 people have been killed and many others tortured, including children, suggest that they qualify as crimes against humanity.
Given their increasing weight on the international scene and aspirations to become permanent members of the UN Security Council, Brazil, India, and South Africa face a particular responsibility to stand up for the values of the UN Charter and send a clear message to the Syrian government that the UN Security Council does not condone the use of tanks, snipers, and torture to suppress peaceful dissent.
Turkey, another emerging power and a neighbor of Syria, has condemned the violence in no uncertain terms. Most recently Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - whose country was on the Security Council in 2009 and 2010 - denounced the Syrian government's violent crackdown as a "barbarity" that is "inhumane" and "cannot be digested," according to media reports.
Contrary to Syrian officials' attempts to blame the violence on "terrorist groups" or "armed gangs," Human Rights Watch's research indicates that the protests were overwhelmingly peaceful. Human Rights Watch has documented a few instances where civilians used force, including cases of deadly violence against security forces, which appear to be operating under "shoot-to-kill" orders. While these incidents should be fully investigated, they can in no way be used to justify the systematic violence the Syrian security forces have unleashed against their own people.
"States like Brazil, India, and South Africa have a chance to lead by example and demonstrate the values the Security Council should stand for," said Bolopion. "Concerns over developments in Libya shouldn't silence the council. If Brazil, India, and South Africa have misgivings about Libya, they should use this resolution to get it right by condemning Syria's actions and encouraging its government to set a different course."
To justify their opposition to any Security Council action, some countries have expressed concerns about the way NATO is implementing resolution 1973, which authorized the use of force in Libya to protect civilians.
"Countries bringing the Libya baggage to this debate have to explain why Syrian victims should suffer the consequences of a NATO military intervention in which they had no say," said Bolopion. "No one is proposing military action here, and that straw man should not be an excuse for inaction on a resolution condemning Syria's abuses."
Having made largely empty promises to reform, the Syrian government continues to ignore the April 29, 2011 resolution of the UN Human Rights Council urging an end to all human rights violations and calling for an assessment mission by the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
"Rather than shirking responsibility by pointing to the work of the Human Rights Council, the Security Council should put its full weight behind their efforts to quell the violence, including by demanding access to Syria for the OHCHR mission," said Bolopion. "President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has responded to gentle calls for reform with more killings and more brutality. The Security Council should make clear that this conduct is unacceptable."