Syria walks out of UN human rights debate
Geneva - Syria walked out on Tuesday of a UN debate on the human rights situation in the violence racked country, while its ally Russia urged Damascus to co-operate with efforts to allow in humanitarian aid.
Syria has been rocked by 11 months of anti-regime demonstrations and a military crackdown against a growing protest and rebel movement that has left more than 7 600 people dead, according to opposition activists.
Moscow, which triggered Western outrage for vetoing UN Security Council resolutions on the crisis, called on Damascus to co-operate with the International Committee of the Red Cross as it tries to negotiate a daily two-hour ceasefire to help civilians caught up in the fighting.
The Syrian representative to the UN, Faysal Khabbaz, walked out of a specially-convened meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, telling the assembly: "We declare our withdrawal from this sterile discussion."
Several HRC members called for urgent debate to discuss reports of human rights abuses in Syria and the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
A resolution filed by Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey calling for access for relief agencies was to be discussed after the meeting, although a UN spokesperson said it was not clear if this would happen on Tuesday.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said fighting must end so help can be delivered to civilians caught up in regime blockades in the cities of Homs and Hama which have left them without food and water.
"There must be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the fighting and bombardments," said Pillay.
The UN rights chief said that since mid-February she had received reports of a "rapidly deteriorating" humanitarian situation and serious rights abuses, including a massive campaign of arrests by military and security forces.
"The Syrian army has reportedly used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to cordon off cities, and shelled densely populated neighbourhoods in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas," said Pillay.
"The crisis has exacerbated pre-existing high levels of poverty and unemployment. The humanitarian situation is dire."
Pillay revealed that Syrian government figures provided to her office on February 15 put the number of civilians, soldiers and police officers killed between March 15 2011 and January 18 this year at 3 838.
Before walking out of the debate, Syrian envoy Khabbaz said he was not pretending that the human rights situation in his country was "perfect".
He said that services were lacking but blamed armed groups which he said were responsible for attacking hospitals, health centres and ambulances.
"We are convinced that the real aim [of the debate] is to cover up for the violence and murder perpetrated by armed groups against innocent civilians," said Khabbaz.
Russia urged Syria to cooperate with the ICRC which is trying to negotiate a daily two-hour ceasefire.
"It is important that the Syrian government co-operates with the ICRC," Russia's deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov told the meeting.
Russia boycotted a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunis on Friday after arguing that its Arab and Western participants were unfairly blaming one side of an "internal conflict".
The resolution set for discussion by the HRC calls on President Bashar Assad's regime to "permit humanitarian agencies to deliver vital relief goods and services to civilians affected by the violence, especially in Homs, Dera'a, Zabadani and other areas under siege by the Syrian security forces."
The draft document denounces "the lack of access to basic food, medicine and fuel, as well as threats and acts of violence to medical staff, patients and facilities, in some areas."