UN rights chief warns Syria response risks starting regional war

Navi Pillay says states must find a way to bring parties to the negotiating table

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay speaks during a news conference on her trip around Sri Lanka at the UN headquarters in Colombo on August 31st, 2013. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay speaks during a news conference on her trip around Sri Lanka at the UN headquarters in Colombo on August 31st, 2013. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

 

The “appalling situation” in Syria cries out for international action, yet a military response or the continued supply of arms risk igniting a regional war, possibly resulting in even more deaths, the UN’s human rights chief has said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said there were “no easy exits, no obvious pathway out of this nightmare, except the immediate negotiation of concrete steps to end the conflict”.

Addressing the 24th session of the Human Rights Council, she said states, together with the United Nations, “must find a way to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table and halt the bloodshed”.

Ms Pillay noted that in September two years ago, when I addressed the situation in Syria at the council, she had pointed out that some 2,600 Syrians had already died in the conflict.

“Today the number of dead stands at over 100,000. Last week the number of refugees reached two million, and an additional four million people are displaced inside Syria.

“Camps in neighbouring lands are struggling to cope and we are just a few months away from winter. The suffering of Syria’s civilian population has reached unimaginable levels.”

Ms Pillay said the use of chemical weapons had long been identified as “one of the gravest crimes that can be committed, yet their use in Syria seems now to be in little doubt, even if all the circumstances and responsibilities remain to be clarified”.

The international community was very late to take serious joint action “to halt the downward spiral that has gripped Syria, slaughtering its people and destroying its cities”.

“This is no time for powerful states to continue to disagree on the way forward, or for geopolitical interests to override the legal and moral obligation to save lives by bringing this conflict to an end,” she said.

“This appalling situation cries out for international action, yet a military response or the continued supply of arms risk igniting a regional conflagration, possibly resulting in many more deaths and even more widespread misery.

“There are no easy exits, no obvious pathway out of this nightmare, except the immediate negotiation of concrete steps to end the conflict.

“States, together with the United Nations, must find a way to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table and halt the bloodshed.”

Ms Pillay added: “While the world gazes in horror upon Syria, we must not forget the sometimes faltering efforts of other peoples, both in the Middle East and elsewhere, to assert their right to live in dignity, peace and security and full recognition of all their rights.”