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UN rights body agrees to urgent debate on Syria

Monday - 5/27/2013, 4:15pm  ET

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights South African Navanethem Pillay, speaks with a delegate,unseen, prior the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, May 27, 2013. The Unites States, Qatar and Turkey have asked the U.N.'s top human rights body to hold an urgent debate on the ways to end the civil war in Syria, and to hold accountable those responsible for killing thousands of civilians. Syria's Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui objected to Monday's request, saying it comes from nations that support the rebels who have been battling the regime of Syria's President Bashar Assad since March 2011. U.N. Human Rights Council President Remigiusz Henczel says the council will decide Tuesday whether to hold the debate Wednesday. (AP Photo/Keystone,Salvatore Di Nolfi)

JOHN HEILPRIN
Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) -- The U.N.'s top human rights body agreed Monday to hold another urgent session on the civil war in Syria, hoping to prod accountability for the killing of thousands of civilians.

The U.S., Turkey and Qatar persuaded the 47-member Human Rights Council to hold a debate Wednesday looking into the violence in the Syrian town of Qusair, near Lebanon.

The move came as the U.N.'s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, warned that the international community was failing Syria's victims.

The council has passed nine previous resolutions on Syria seeking to end the violence and impose accountability for the killings, rapes, torture, shelling of civilians and other horrific abuses.

Diplomats exchanged sharp words Monday over the more than 70,000 people killed in Syria and the millions displaced since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.

Ambassador Oguz Demiralp of Turkey said Assad's regime is "attacking its own citizens with heavy weapons" in Qusair, which has been under siege by government forces and members of Lebanon's Hezbollah group since last week.

"This time the Syrian regime is blatantly hand-in-hand with foreign culprits," he said. "Those who cling to power in Syria seem to have lost sense of reality and humanity."

Syrian Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui accused the council of catering to nations that support the rebels and claimed that Pillay's rights office has taken an "irresponsible and biased attitude" toward his government.

But British Ambassador Karen Pierce and other diplomats praised Pillay's "vital words" on Syria.

Pillay told the council that civilians unfairly bear the brunt of a crisis that is threatening the region's stability and in which "human rights violations have reached horrific dimensions."

She said she was extremely concerned about the possibility that hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded and thousands trapped by indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks by Syrian government forces in Qusair.

Pillay warned that the Syria government is shelling residential areas and directly targeting schools and hospitals. She also said "wanton human rights violations" were being committed by the rebels.

She repeated her call for the U.N. to refer Syria for war crimes prosecution with the International Criminal Court.

Down the hallway, diplomats at the World Health Assembly shared their concerns about Syria's growing cases of mental illness and diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis A and measles, and its severely disrupted health care system.

Next week a U.N. panel investigating war crimes in Syria is to deliver an update on their work that is expected to deal with the suspected use of chemical weapons in the war.

That could add to pressure on Syria from the U.N. General Assembly, which two weeks ago approved an Arab-backed resolution demanding a political transition in Syria.

Next month, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France -- hope get Assad's regime and its opponents to the negotiating table in Geneva.


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