GENEVA (25 April 2011) – UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday said the Syrian Government’s erratic and violent response to peaceful protests is unacceptable and security forces must immediately stop using live ammunition against demonstrators.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights said that her Office had received a list naming 76 people who were killed on Friday during evidently peaceful marches, but that the number may be considerably higher. She added that her staff was looking into the reported killing of at least 13 others in funeral processions on Saturday.
“The international community has repeatedly urged the Syrian Government to stop killing its own people, but our calls have gone unheeded,” Pillay said.
“Instead, the Government’s response has been erratic, with paper reforms followed by violent crackdowns on protestors. Just a few days after the announcement of sweeping and important reforms, we are seeing such disregard for human life by Syrian security forces. The killings must stop immediately.”
She noted that the President had instructed security forces not to resort to violence against demonstrators but the excessive use of force has only intensified in recent days.
“The Government has an international legal obligation to protect peaceful demonstrators and the right to peaceful protest,” she said. “The first step now is to immediately halt the use of violence, then to conduct a full and independent investigation into the killings, including the alleged killing of military and security officers, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The High Commissioner’s Office has also received information of the ongoing arrests of scores of protesters, human rights defenders, journalists and others. Pillay said the reported detention of activists was worrying and called on the authorities to release all political prisoners. Journalists and human rights defenders must be able to do their work without fear of reprisals, arrest and violence, she added.
“There is a need for genuine national dialogue but this cannot happen while live rounds are being fired by security forces on the streets and activists are being rounded up,” she said.
In a meeting with representatives of the Syrian Government last week, the High Commissioner had noted the announced lifting of the decades-old state of emergency and the abolition of the dreaded High State Security Court. She had also urged the amendment of other laws that obstruct fundamental freedoms.
“The violence and ongoing repression of activists, however, indicates that either the Government is not serious about those reforms or it is unable to control its own security forces,” she noted. Pillay said that security agents cannot be allowed to run amok and must be held accountable for their actions.
“I strongly urge President Al-Assad and his Government to rapidly implement promised reforms to restore the people’s confidence,” she said.
The High Commissioner said that her Office stood ready to deploy staff to assess the situation in Syria.