Syria Update: Possible war crimes include rising violence against women

WNN Breaking

Syrian women and children flee violence
Syrian women and children flee violence as they join the legions of the displaced in the city of Sermin on April 7, 2012. Image: FreedomHouse

(WNN/UN/HRW) Geneva, SWITZERLAND: Warning of crimes against humanity and possible war crimes being committed, the United Nations human rights chief today called on the international community this week to overcome differences in order to end the violence and human rights violations in Syria.

Reports of specific and increasing violence against women has also been reported. “Syrian security forces have used sexual violence to humiliate and degrade detainees with complete impunity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The assaults are not limited to detention facilities – government forces and pro-government shabiha militia members have also sexually assaulted women and girls during home raids and residential sweeps,” continued Whitson.

Speaking at the opening of the 20th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said that the situation in Syria “continues to deteriorate and the suffering of civilians has increased significantly”, and pointed out that the upsurge in violence had forced the UN observer mission in the country to suspend its activities as of this weekend.

Pillay reiterated her call for the Syrian government to end the violence and killing of civilians, which she said amounted to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes.

Speaking from the floor, United States ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahue welcomed the recent report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry for Syria, and said her country looked forward to its focused report on the events in Al Houleh, calling on the government of Syria to allow “full and unfettered access” to the Commission.

The Ambassador also said that the United States urged “countries that have influence with Syria” to join in achieving justice for the people of Syria and helping to halt the violence.

Amid reports of military torture while under arrest, sexual assault, violence and impunity, Human Rights Watch has been interviewing numerous people affected personally by the violence in Syria.

“The international community urgently needs to address the human rights violations going on in Syria,” said Whitson from HRW. “The Security Council should send a strong signal to the Assad government that they will be held accountable for sexual violence and other human rights violations – by referring the situation to the ICC.”

Over the weekend, the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) announced that it had suspended the monitoring activities of its observers – captured here on amateur footage shot by one observer – due to the intensification of armed violence across the country in recent days.

The head of the mission, General Robert Mood said on Saturday (16 June) that observers would not be conducting patrols and would stay in their locations until further notice, and that engagement with the parties would be restricted.

Mood said the suspension would be reviewed on a daily basis, and operation would resume “when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities”.

The General is expected at UN headquarters tomorrow (19 June) to brief the Security Council on the deteriorating security situation in Syria.

UNSMIS, consisting of 300 unarmed observers, has repeatedly come under attack.

Last week it took the observers several attempts to reach the town of El-Haffe, which when they finally reached it appeared deserted, with many buildings burned down and the “strong stench of dead bodies” in the air.

The mission reported that most government institutions were set on fire from inside, archives were burnt, stores were looted and set on fire, residential homes appeared rummaged and the doors were open. The Baath Party Headquarters in the town was shelled and appeared to be the site of heavy fighting. Remnant of heavy weapons and a range of caliber arms were found in the town. Cars, both civilian and security were also set on fire and damaged.

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago.

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2012 WNN – Women News Network

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