[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Wednesday urged the international community [press release] to take action to protect Syrian civilians. Pillay argued that the failure of the UN Security Council [official website] to agree on collective action against Syria has encouraged the Syrian government to attack and kill civilians in order to quash dissent. Pillay declared that the Syrian government’s violence against its own people constitutes a “serious international crime” and called on world leaders to honor a 2005 agreement to protect basic human rights:
At their 2005 Summit, World leaders unanimously agreed that each individual State has the responsibility to protect its population from crimes against humanity and other international crimes … They also agreed that when a State is manifestly failing to protect its population from serious international crimes, the international community as a whole has the responsibility to step in by taking protective action in a collective, timely and decisive manner … The virtual carte blanche now granted to the Syrian Government betrays the spirit and the word of this unanimous decision. It is depriving the population of the protection they so urgently need.
The statement comes in response to the recent increase in attacks on civilians by the Syrian army, especially in the city of Homs.
Human rights groups have sharply criticized the Syrian government for using violence against its own people. Earlier this week, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) [official website] claimed that eleven months of violence in Syria has led to the deaths of hundreds of children [JURIST report]. Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused the Syrian army of torturing children [JURIST report]. In January, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] demanded [JURIST report] that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC backgrounder] end violence against Syrian civilians. In December, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] urged the UN Security Council [JURIST report] to refer Syrian government officials to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. In November, HRW declared that Syrian forces were committing crimes against humanity [JURIST report], including torture and unlawful killings of anti-government protesters. JURIST contributing editor Chibli Mallat argues that a UN Security Council resolution would not have affected meaningful change [JURIST op-ed].