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UN rights chief calls for international action in Syria

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called upon the international community [press release] on Friday to find a solution to the conflict in Syria and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable. Pillay's urging came after a series of massacres [NYT report] were carried out against civilians, including young children, in al-Bayda and other areas over the past week. Pillay also voiced concern about the military build-up of government troops in western Syria and stated her view that the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] should handle claims of war crimes by the Syrian government. Pillay welcomed the recent cooperation between the US and Russia [BBC report] regarding the conflict but emphasized that the international community "needs a much greater sense of urgency" when it comes to ending the conflict. Pillay's statement comes on the same day that Turkey claims it has evidence that Syria used chemical weapons [BBC report], something US President Barack Obama [official profile] previously called a "red line" for intervention.

The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] has been going on since 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile], and the increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. Last month Assad issued a decree reducing prison terms [JURIST report] for a number of rebel prisoners, but the move was dismissed as a "meaningless gesture" by activists. Also in April Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused the Syrian Air Force of deliberately targeting civilians [JURIST report] in air strikes in opposition-controlled areas. In March HRW accused Syria's military of using widely-banned cluster munitions [JURIST report] against civilians. In February the UN said that both the Syrian government and the anti-government rebels are committing war crimes [JURIST report]. Earlier that month Pillay reported that the death toll after two years [JURIST report] of armed conflict approached 70,000. In January more than 50 countries asked the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC [JURIST report].

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