UN says 'urgent' action needed in Syria


The UN's human rights chief has called on global powers to take "urgent" action to protect civilians in Syria, as she blamed the country's authorities for the deaths of more than 300 children in its efforts to crush opposition to the Assad regime.

Navi Pillay, the human rights commissioner, said reports from inside Syria – including a revised UN death toll of more than 4,000 Syrians since the popular uprising began in March – reinforced the need to refer the regime to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"The Syrian authorities' continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a fully fledged civil war," Ms Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday. "In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people."

President Bashar al-Assad is facing deepening isolation amid condemnation of his crackdown from world powers, including the Arab League, as his security forces continue with efforts to crush a pro-democracy uprising depicted by his regime as a foreign-backed insurgency. The UN warned this week that Syria is on the verge of civil war.

On Thursday, the European Union imposed new sanctions on Syria, targeting the vital oil sector and members of the Syrian elite. These come on the back of separate Arab League sanctions approved last weekend.

Ms Pillay added that 307 children – revised from an earlier figure of 256 in a UN report released on Monday – have been killed since March, while more than 14,000 people are believed to be in detention. A further 12,600 have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the unrest, she said. "All acts of murder, torture and other forms of violence must be immediately stopped," she said.

The 47-member human rights council is considering a resolution calling for the establishment of a special investigator on Syria, but it does not have the powers to refer the regime to the ICC, a decision that would lie with the UN's Security Council.

Russia and China yesterday resisted Ms Pillay's calls for unspecified international intervention. "We would like to warn against illegal interference by outside forces, even under the pretext of protecting human rights," said Russia's envoy Valery Loshchinin. "This will have serious and unforeseen consequences."

* Royal Dutch Shell PLC said yesterday it will halt its operations in Syria to comply with the international sanctions.