UN rights chief urges ICC referral of Syria crimes

By the Associated Press | December 2, 2011 | 5:10 AM EST

In this photo taken during a government-organized tour for the media, Georgina Mtanious al-Jammal, the mother of Sari Saoud a 9-year-old boy who was shot dead in Homs three days ago while he was buying cookies from a shop, holds her son's portarit as she mourns at her house, in the village of Kfarbo in Hama province, Syria, on Thursday Dec. 1, 2011. Georgina blamed "armed terrorists" for killing her son. Syria's opposition called a general strike Thursday over President Bashar Assad's deadly crackdown on an 8-month-old revolt, ramping up efforts to persuade the country's business elite to abandon their long-standing ties to the regime. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.'s human rights chief called Friday for Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court over allegations that its crackdown on opposition protesters has led to crimes against humanity.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said fresh reports from the country — including that 307 children have been killed since March — reinforced the need for the Security Council to submit the situation in Syria to the Hague-based court.

"In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," Pillay told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

A draft resolution backed by African, European, Asian, Arab and American members of the 47-nation rights council calls for the establishment of a special investigator on Syria, but leaves open the issue of whether the more powerful Security Council should refer the country to the ICC.

Russia and China have held back support for the resolution. The two permanent members of the Security Council have condemned the bloodshed, but are staunchly resisting further international pressure on Syria.

Pillay said her office had received reliable information that the death toll since the start of the eight-month uprising was now "much more" than 4,000.

"The Syrian authorities' continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war," she said.

An independent panel's report to the Human Rights Council this week said it found widespread evidence of "crimes against humanity" and use of excessive force against civilians.

The chairman of the international commission of inquiry, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian professor, told the council Friday that the 307 children killed included 262 boys and 45 girls. He said November was the deadliest month so far, with 56 children killed.

Syria's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Fayssal al-Hamwi, responded that any U.N. action would only deepen the crisis and Pinheiro's panel "fell into the same trap" as other outside observers siding against the government.

"We strongly condemn the fact that the international commission on Syria was not objective in the report," he told diplomats. "The solution cannot come from the corridors of the international community."