UN rights body demands Syria end violence

By JOHN HEILPRIN | August 23, 2011 | 6:05 AM EDT

Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Ambassador of the Permanent Representative Mission of Syrian Arab Republic to Geneva, speaks during the Human Rights Council special session on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, Aug. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi) GERMANY OUT - AUSTRIA OUT

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.'s top human rights body voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to demand that Syria end its bloody crackdown and cooperate with an international probe into possible crimes against humanity.

The U.N. Human Rights Council voted 33-4 to condemn the violence by Syrian authorities — strongly underscoring the growing isolation within the international community of President Bashar al-Assad — and dispatch a human rights team to probe alleged atrocities since March.

The countries voting in favor included all four Arab voting members of the council — Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Russia and China voted against, along with Cuba and Ecuador.

The remaining countries on the 47-nation council abstained or were absent.

In the face of sharp opposition from China, Russia and other nations deeply suspicious of international intervention in a country's affairs, the resolution was heavily edited — and somewhat watered down — from its original language. The title "Grave human rights violations ..." became, for example, "The human rights situation ... " in Syria.

But the resolution itself still had a bite. It said the council "strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, also of children."

It called on Syrian authorities to put an end to all human rights violations to protect their population and to fully comply with international human rights laws.

The council also decided to dispatch a team of international human rights investigators "to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March" in Syria, particularly "those that may constitute crimes against humanity."

China and Russia said they opposed the measure as unnecessary intervention. China's Ambassador He Yafei said it "will only complicate the situation."

Syrian Ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi called the action "100 percent political." But he said Monday that his nation was "ready to receive" a U.N. inquiry within its borders sometime "in the near future," as soon as Syrian authorities finish their own probe.

A U.N. humanitarian team has entered Syria to visit some of the main protest areas and assess needs for aid, but a high-level U.N. human rights team wasn't able to enter for its report. Last week, it recommended that the U.N. Security Council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution of alleged atrocities.


Follow John Heilprin at http://www.twitter.com/genevareporter