UN chief says Houla is a 'crime against humanity'


The massacre at Houla could amount to crimes against humanity and such "gross violations" – which continue unabated – should be referred to the International Criminal Court, the UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said yesterday.

Ms Pillay said she was "appalled" by the slaughter a week ago and called for an independent investigation into the killings at an emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"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," she said.

Britain and the EU were yesterday pushing for stronger wording of a draft resolution expected to be adopted by the 47-member council. In its current form, the draft condemns "the wanton killings of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse by pro-regime elements and a series of government artillery and tank shel- lings of a residential neighbourhood".

As the UN Human Rights Council met, details emerged of another mass killing. Activists said 13 workers from a fertiliser factory were shot dead after shabiha militias intercepted their bus near the Lebanese border town of Al Qusayr. Video footage showed their bloodied bodies laid out in what appeared to be a school classroom.

The images of the bodies of children slaughtered in the attack at Houla outraged the international community but efforts to galvanise alternative options to UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's crumbling peace plan have floundered.

Speaking during a visit to Lebanon yesterday, Mr Annan said he was "frustrated and impatient" over the progress of his peace plan. "If there are other options on the table, I will say bravo and support them," he said. "I want to see things move faster."

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, yesterday told the BBC's Today Programme that there was a "desperate need for a political solution" but for the moment the UK remained behind the Annan plan. He said "other options" would have to be considered if it were to collapse.