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Syria: Pillay says El Houleh killings may amount to international crimes



NEW YORK / Geneva (27 May 2012) -- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Sunday that the "indiscriminate and possibly deliberate" killing of villagers in the El Houleh area of Homs in Syria may mount to crimes against humanity or other forms of international crime.

Pillay said she was "appalled" at the very high number of people killed and wounded by government forces and militias in three villages in the El Houleh region of Homs on Friday and early Saturday. "Once again, I urge the Syrian Government to halt the excessive use of force against civilians," she added.

Pillay said she fully supported Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Joint Special Envoy for Syria Kofi Annan's strong condemnation of the attack on El Houleh.

"The information I've received indicates indiscriminate and possibly deliberate targeting of civilians in El Houleh," the High Commissioner said. "The UN has so far directly verified the deaths of at least 90 people, including 34 children under the age of 10, while other unconfirmed reports suggest the death toll may well be much higher. These atrocities may amount to crimes against humanity or other forms of international crime or violations of international law."
"There should be an immediate and unfettered investigation of the incident by an independent and impartial international body," Pillay said. "The Syrian government has a legal and moral responsibility to fully assist such an investigation, and to take concrete steps to prevent any similar acts."

The El Houleh region of Homs includes the three villages of Taldaou, Kafr Laha, and Tal Addahab. The Syrian military is said to have maintained a heavy presence in the area for several months.

Initial reports from El Houleh residents and other sources indicate that exchanges of fire between armed individuals and the Syrian military began around 12:30 pm on Friday 25 March, shortly after a demonstration by people living in the area. The Syrian military then allegedly unleashed a barrage of heavy weapons on the area - including artillery and tank fire -- which continued until until roughly 2:00 a.m.on Saturday.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that pro-government shabiha paramilitary groups also entered the villages and may have been responsible for killing dozens of people, as well as destruction of property. "Unfortunately, these allegations are consistent with other incidents documented by my office, the international Commission of Inquiry on Syria and other human rights organizations," Pillay said.

"Syria has suffered a number of major bombings in recent months which can only be described as terrorist acts," Pillay said. "I strongly denounce such acts, which have also taken many civilian lives. However, I would like to remind President Assad and the Syrian government that invoking a defense against terrorism does not in anyway justify indiscriminate violence and killing of the sort that government forces and their allies have just carried out in El Houleh," Pillay said.

"Those who order such attacks, assist them, or fail to stop them, are individually criminally liable for their actions," the High Commissioner said. "And other States have a duty to do all they can to prevent and prosecute the perpetrators of international crimes. Once again, I urge the Security Council, as a matter of urgency, to consider referring the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court."


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