UN Human Rights Body Passes Resolution Condemning Syria Crackdown on Protests

Human Rights Council Resolution S-16/1 calls on the Syrian government to halt the killing of protesters and allow for freedom of expression; the resolution falls short of calling for international intervention.

The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Syria on Friday for using deadly force against peaceful protesters and launched an investigation into killings and other alleged crimes.

The 47-member forum, which held an emergency session at U.S. request, endorsed a U.S.-sponsored resolution by 26 votes to 9 with 7 abstentions.

UN headquarters AP October 12, 2010

"Member states came together to condemn the brutal tactics used by the Assad regime to silence peaceful dissent," U.S. human rights ambassador Eileen Donahoe said in a statement.

The urgency of holding the special session was "underlined by the disturbing reports today that the regime has continued its violent crackdown in towns across Syria," she added.

Syrian forces killed 62 people in protests throughout Syria Friday, according to opposition sources, defying a government ban on protests and taking to the streets for a 'day of rage'

Human Rights Council Resolution S-16/1 expressed "deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of people in connection with the recent and ongoing political protests in Syria, and grave concern with respect to alleged deliberate killings, arrests, and instances of torture of peaceful protestors by the Syrian authorities."

The resolution reiterated UN Chief Ban Ki-moon's recent call for an independent and transparent investigation of the situation in Syria, calling on the Syrian government to put an end to killings and allow freedom of expression.

It noted the Syrian government's stated intention to take steps for reform "urging the Syrian Arab Republic to take urgent and concrete measures to meet the legitimate demands of its people, including by enlarging the scope of political participation and dialogue, following through on the abolition of the High State Security Court and the lifting of measures restricting the exercise of fundamental freedoms."

The resolution fell short, however, of calling for international intervention, and reaffirmed that all UN members should refrain from breaching " the territorial integrity or political independence of any state".

The U.S. – sponsored resolution condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters by Syrian authorities, calling on the Syrian government to allow all its people access to medical treatment and put an end to all human rights violations.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice lauded the UN Human Rights Council's decision to condemn the Syrian government, saying that Friday's vote was testimony of the council's ability to "against attempts to silence dissent with the use of gratuitous violence, which is not the act of a responsible government."

Rice said the resolution sets an important precedent, saying it pushes for further investigation into violations of international human rights law, "with the goal of ensuring full accountability for the perpetrators of the violence."

She reiterated the United States' support for the decision, saying that the it will continue to stand up for democracy and universal human rights – "in Syria and throughout the world."

Five delegations -- including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain -- were absent for the vote which came after heated debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to some watering down of the text.

"In general it is a good result, we knew it would be a compromise," Radwan Ziadah, a Syrian exile who heads the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, told Reuters.

"At the same time, the countries who were absent was very telling. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, four Arab countries, this is very telling, it tells you how much the Syrian regime is isolated. This very important step for us," added Ziadah, a visiting scholar at George Washington University who came to Geneva for the session.

A Syrian rights group said this week at least 500 civilians had been killed since unrest broke out in the south Syrian city of Daraa in mid-March. Authorities dispute the death toll.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ghana and Zambia were among key swing states supporting the Western resolution.

But China, Russia and Pakistan voted against it, denouncing meddling in Syria's internal affairs and accusing the council of double standards.

"My country has always believed that 'naming and shaming' is an approach which is counterproductive," Pakistani ambassador Zamir Akram told the gathering.

"This will only complicate the situation of human rights in Syria and increase tensions in the country," China's envoy warned before the vote.

Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Syria's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, defended Syrian forces saying they were showing "maximum self-restraint to avoid victims among innocent civilians."

Some 60 officers and soldiers had been killed in the violence, he said.

Britain and France condemned Syria's crackdown and said Syria had no place in the forum. "The appropriate response to the protests is reform, not repression," British ambassador Peter Gooderham said.