United Nations (UN) [official website] Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] Thursday called on Syria to end to violence against civilians and possible crimes against humanity [press release]. During a speech in Vienna, Austria, the Secretary General said he had urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] to make necessary changes before the unrest spread, but Assad instead took military action against the people of Syria. Ban said that estimates show over 5,000 people have been killed since violence started 11 months ago:
Lack of access has prevented the United Nations, the international community and humanitarian workers from knowing the full toll, yet credible reports indicate at least more than 5,400 people were killed as of last year. We have not been able to have credible information [on] how many more people have been killed between 1 January and today. Every day those numbers rise. We see neighborhoods shelled by tanks. Hospitals used as torture centers. Children as young as ten years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity. The UN places the death toll around 5,000 people since the uprising started.On Wednesday, Al-Assad ordered a referendum on a new constitution [JURIST report], which could open the country up to a multiparty political system. But some critics have argued that the referendum, scheduled for February 26, is insufficient.
The growing unrest in Syria has drawn abundant international attention recently. Earlier this week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile, JURIST news archive], in a speech to the UN General Assembly [JURIST report], called for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Pillay urged an investigation of Syrian government and military officials for possible crimes against humanity. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) [official website] claimed in early February that the past 11 months of violence in Syria have led to the deaths of hundreds of children [JURIST report]. In January, Ban demanded [JURIST reports] that al-Assad end violence against Syrian civilians.