By Stephanie Nebehay, Globe and Mail, November 28, 2011
United Nations commission of inquiry on Syria said on Monday Syrian military and security forces had committed crimes against humanity including murder, torture and rape and the government of President Bashar al-Assad bore responsibility.
The panel, which interviewed 223 victims and witnesses including defectors, called on Syria to halt “gross human rights violations,” release prisoners rounded up in mass arrests and allow media, aid workers and rights monitors access to the country.
Syria is “responsible for wrongful acts, including crimes against humanity, committed by members of its military and security forces as documented in the present report,” the three-member panel said in a 39-page report to the UN Human Rights Council.
It catalogues executions, torture, rapes including of children, arbitrary detentions and abductions carried out since March by Syrian forces quashing pro-democracy demonstrations while enjoying “systemic impunity” for their crimes, it said.
“The commission therefore believes that orders to shoot and otherwise mistreat civilians originated from policies and directives issued at the highest levels of the armed forces and the government,” said the team, led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro.
More than 3,500 people have been killed in the violence, according to the United Nations, while activists say that up to 30,000 have been arrested, many kept in open-air stadiums.
The UN Security Council stopped short of taking action against Syria when China and Russia vetoed a resolution in October. After continuing international criticism of Mr. al-Assad’s handling of the crisis, the Arab League approved sanctions against Syria on Sunday.
“The international community must act. More than ever it has a duty to stop the suffering of the civilian population,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement after the publication of the UN report....
Activist groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said in a letter to United Nations member states last week that if the inquiry found that crimes under international law had been committed, they should urge the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
The UN panel’s report, specifically the paragraph on the Security Council, was “disappointing in its lack of teeth concerning international justice,” Jeremie Smith of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies told Reuters.
Crimes such as these merit an international response, including both the Security Council of the UN and the International Criminal Court. Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in their letter, call on the Security Council to refer the allegations of crimes to the presecutor of the International Court....
And their plea merits the governmental and public shove that could and would result in such a move.
However, in North America, many people have grown "immune" to the news reports of actions like those in this report. Canadians and Americans have tuned out much of the stream of information from the Middle East, at our own peril.
Military intervention, like the campaign in Libya, is not feasible in Syria. The Assad family is so deeply engrained in the culture of Syria, and their connections to terrorist groups make Syria a very different file from Libya.
Nevertheless, crimes like murder, torture and rape must not go unanswered, even in the midst of a sovereign debt crisis, an unemployment crisis, an impending U.S. election in 2012, and a virtually impotent Security Council.