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UN rights chief calls for protection of civilians in Syria

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Friday insisted that the Syrian government take steps to protect civilians [statement] during armed conflicts. Pillay noted that recent violence in the country has often led to the death of civilians who were not notified that the conflict was approaching their area. Pillay said that although both sides of the conflict were responsible for the deaths, the government is primarily responsible for protecting the lives of civilians. She encouraged government officials to take steps to protect civilians and civilian objects by providing warnings of impending attack and distinguishing between military and civilian targets. She also said she was concerned about unconfirmed reports of extra-judicial killings and torture of military and civilian prisoners on both sides. Pillay stressed that those who violate international law will face serious consequences:

Murder and wilful killing, whether committed by government or opposition forces, may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes. Torture, likewise, is prohibited under all circumstances. While such conclusions can only ultimately be reached in a court of law, it is my belief, on the basis of evidence gathered from various credible sources, that crimes against humanity and war crimes have been, and continue to be, committed in Syria. Those who are committing them should not believe that they will escape justice. The world does not forget or forgive crimes like these.
Pillay said that the government must ensure that it conforms to the expectations of international law, noting that the standards may not be altered in times of conflict. She encouraged the authorities to allow legal observers to examine practices and policies of its security forces.

Pillay's comments came after 19 bodies were found, including unarmed men and one child, in Damascus earlier this week. Amnesty International on Wednesday accused government forces and rebels in Syria of summarily capturing and killing [JURIST report] opposition forces in violation of international humanitarian law. Syria has recently been facing international criticism for human rights violations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday expressed his concern that Syria could potentially use chemical weapons [JURIST report] in its ongoing conflict, even though the Syrian government has stated it would not use such weapons against its own citizens. Last Friday the UN Security Council extended the UN monitoring mission in Syria [JURIST report] for an additional 30 days. The mandate for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) [official website], deployed as part of the peace plan of UN Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, received a unanimous vote for a 30-day extension in the Security Council.

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