Violence used by Syrian, Yemeni and Libyan leaders to curb pro-democracy protests is “shocking” and has led to widespread human-rights violations, said Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
“People in the Middle East and North Africa are expressing their aspirations of human rights that are taken for granted by people elsewhere in the world,” she said in an interview in Geneva. “The responses to these demands by the governments of Libya, Yemen and Syria have been shocking. The information emerging from all these countries leads me to believe human-rights violations are taking place on a widespread basis.”
Pillay criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government for snubbing calls to end a crackdown on protesters that the UN says has claimed more than 850 lives. The suppression of pro-democracy rallies that began in March followed revolts that ousted longtime leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and threaten governments in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain.
Syria has so far ignored requests to grant access for a Human Rights Council-mandated fact-finding mission. UN investigators will probe alleged violations of international humans-rights law in Syria even if they’re not allowed to enter the country, Pillay said in the May 11 interview. The mission will present a preliminary report in July and its full findings in September.
“The Syrian authorities are acting in defiance of the council resolution that asks them to stop the killings and have immediate investigations,” she said. “These are matters of grave concern. They have defied the very urgent calls made upon them by the secretary general and the Human Rights Council to stop the violence immediately.”
Though Assad initially agreed to permit a humanitarian mission into Syria, he subsequently backtracked. The European Union has imposed sanctions including a visa ban, an arms embargo and an asset freeze on 13 Syrian officials and relatives of the president. The U.S. has also applied sanctions against three Syrian officials, including Assad’s brother and a cousin, with more measures possible before Obama makes a major speech tomorrow on the historic changes in the Middle East and the implications for U.S. foreign policy.
“We welcome the prospect of change to greater democracy in this region,” Pillay said. “They are asking for civil and political rights, the right to dignity, economic, social and cultural rights and fundamental freedoms. We have a great role to play in assisting the process.”