Syrian regime ’emboldened’ by UN inaction, says human rights chief

UN’s human rights commissioner says Bashar al-Assad’s regime is launching an all-out assault on opponents

Failure by the United Nations to take action on Syria has emboldened the regime of Bashar al-Assad to mount an all-out assault on his opponents, the UN’s human rights chief has warned.

Navi Pillay said the situation in Homs, the focus of ongoing heavy attacks by Assad’s security forces, was “deplorable”. Speaking to the UN general assembly in New York, Pillay said the Syrian government had “manifestly failed” to fulfil its obligation to protect its population.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission reported that 37 people had been killed on Monday, including children.

Pillay said she had encouraged the UN security council to refer the situation to the international criminal court, though that would require the support of Assad’s veto-wielding allies, Russia and China, and is thus unlikely to happen.

“I am very distressed that the continued ruthless repression and deliberate stirring of sectarian tensions might soon plunge Syria into civil war,” she said. “The longer the international community fails to take action, the more the civilian population will suffer from countless atrocities.”

Earlier, the Syrian government rejected a call by the Arab League to deploy peacekeepers to end the escalating conflict, while Britain said no western troops could be involved in such a mission.

The official Syrian Sana news agency quoted an official source in Damascus as saying that Sunday’s Arab League proposal constituted “flagrant interference” in Syria’s internal affairs and was in breach of the league’s own charter.

Assad’s government blames the crisis on an Arab-western conspiracy in support of “armed terrorist groups”.

Amid opposition reports of more government attacks and civilian casualties in Homs and elsewhere, the EU said it also backed the Arab League idea.

William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, signalled his support but made it clear western countries would not take part in any such mission. “I don’t see the way forward in Syria as being western boots on the ground in any form, including in any peacekeeping form,” he told reporters during a visit to Cape Town.

“I think they would need to come from other countries rather than western nations.” But there would first have to be an end to violence against civilians, forces would have to be withdrawn from towns and cities and a credible cease fire established, he said.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said: “We are studying this initiative and expect our friends from the Arab states to provide us with a clarification of certain points.” But he also insisted that a ceasefire would have to be in place before peacekeepers could be deployed.

The recent decision by Russia and China to veto a UN security council resolution on Syria has left western and Arab diplomacy in evident disarray.

It is clear that the US and EU want Arab states to take the lead in a new “Friends of Syria” group due to hold its first meeting in Tunisia on Friday, but there is no appetite for, and little prospect of, Libyan-style western-led military involvement in the crisis.

China’s foreign ministry has backed what it called the Arab League’s “mediation” but offered no clear sign of support for its call for peacekeepers.

Syrian official media, meanwhile, gave prominence to a new draft constitution that has been submitted to Assad as part of what he says are genuine reforms but have been rejected as too little, too late by opposition groups.

Britain, the US and other western and Arab countries continue to demand that Assad step down, though there is little sign that he is prepared to do so.

Britain and the Arab League are both trying to encourage a more united opposition “that represents all of Syria’s communities” – words that mask particular concern about the need to reassure the president’s own Alawite minority in a post-Assad Syria. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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