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U.N. rights council condemns Syrian abuses

By Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 2:43 PM EST, Fri December 2, 2011
 U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva sit in special session to discuss Syria
U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva sit in special session to discuss Syria
  • NEW: Human Rights Council vote is 37 yes, 4 no, 6 abstain
  • NEW: U.N. human rights chief warns of "full-fledged civil war"
  • A report cites regime "crimes against humanity"
  • More than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria, the U.N. says

(CNN) -- The U.N. Human Rights Council decried a wide range of human rights violations in Syria on Friday and called for U.N. bodies to consider a recent report detailing the abuses and take" appropriate action."

The council passed a resolution that "strongly condemns the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders and journalists, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, including against children."

There were 37 yes votes, four against and six abstentions at the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The group convened to consider action against Syria after a troubling report issued Monday by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, a body appointed by the council. That report concluded security and military forces "committed crimes against humanity" against civilians.

The resolution recommends that U.N. bodies "urgently consider" the commission report and "take appropriate action."

The group decided to send the Commission of Inquiry report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "for appropriate action and transmission to all U.N. relevant bodies."

It backs "efforts to protect the population of the Syrian Arab Republic and to bring an immediate end to gross human rights violations." And, it urged Syria "to protect its population" and "to immediately put an end to all human rights violations."

The resolution also decided "to establish a mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Syria and urges Syria to cooperate with it.

Before the resolution was adopted, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the council Syria faces a "full-fledged civil war" if the regime's "continual ruthless repression" against peaceful demonstrators and civilians isn't stopped now.

She noted with concern the reports of "increased armed attacks by the opposition forces, including the so-called Free Syrian army, against the Syrian military and security apparatus."

"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 said.

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"The United Nations secretary-general has urged the international community to act as one and take action in a collective and decisive manner to protect the Syrian people against the violations of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. All acts of murder, torture and other forms of violence must be stopped immediately. "

The government crackdown began in mid-March as popular discontent against ruling powers spread across the Arab world. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has blamed the violence on armed gangs.

Pillay said "more than 4,000 people have reportedly been killed, thousands have been arrested, and more than 14,000 are reported to be in detention as a result of the crackdown." She said many have had to flee their homes, at least 12,400 to neighboring countries and "tens of thousands" internally.

Among those killed, she said, are 307 children. That prompted a reaction from the U.N. Children's Fund, which said it is "greatly disturbed by the confirmed reports of violent attacks on children in Syria."

"These include acts of killings, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, imprisonment, or other forms of severe deprivation of liberty and enforced disappearances throughout the country since March of this year," she said.

Even though it was denied access into Syria, the Commission of Inquiry interviewed "223 victims and witnesses, including military and security forces who had defected and testified to the role of Syrian forces in the use of lethal violence against peaceful protests. "

The council resolution also called on Syrian authorities "to fully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner, including through the establishment of a field presence" in Syria.

Russia, China, Cuba and Ecuador voted against the resolution. Uganda, Philippines, India, Cameroon, Bangladesh, and Angola abstained.

Among the countries voting for the resolution were Western nations like the United States and Italy and Syria's fellow Arab nations of Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Alastair Burt, the UK Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, called the council's vote "extremely significant." He noted international efforts to put pressure on the Syrian government. The Arab League, Turkey, the European Union, and the United States are imposing sanctions on Syrian people and entities.

"I welcome the strong action taken by the Council, and the hard-hitting resolution which it passed today by a very large majority. The resolution supports the Arab League's efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria and lays out exactly why the EU and U.N. General Assembly have taken such robust measures. It sends a very strong signal from countries across the world, including Arab partners, that they utterly condemn the horrific violations perpetrated by the Assad regime, and will continue to increase pressure on it. Today's resolution adds to the mounting pressure which the international community is bringing to bear on Syria."

Pillay told CNN that sanctions by neighboring states are "very important." She also noted that Russia had called "on the Syrian government to address these serious violations and to stop them."

"That's an important voice. What I'm looking for is pressure building up on all sides," she said.

Syrian activists reported assaults by security personnel Friday. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria said at least nine people were killed on Friday, including a child and a woman. There were three fatalities in Homs, two in both Latakia and Daraa, and one each in Hama and Idlib, the group said.

CNN is unable to independently confirm events occurring inside Syria because the government does not allow journalists free access to the country.

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