Last updated: 28 February, 2012

Syrian delegation quits UN rights council debate

Syria boycotted a UN debate on the human rights situation in the violence-wracked country on Tuesday, while its ally Russia urged Damascus to cooperate with efforts to allow in humanitarian aid.

Syria has seen 11 months of demonstrations against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad 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 by vetoing UN Security Council resolutions on the crisis, called on Damascus to cooperate 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.

Tuesday’s meeting at the Human Rights Council in Geneva took place after Qatar, the European Union and the United States called for an urgent debate on the escalating crisis.

The Syrian representative to the United Nations, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, walked out of the meeting, telling the assembly: “We declare our withdrawal from this sterile discussion.”

The session will continue on Thursday as more than 20 countries still have to address the HRC on Syria, the United Nations said.

A planned discussion on a resolution filed by Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey calling for “free and unimpeded access” for the United Nations and humanitarian agencies in Homs and other areas was also postponed to Thursday.

The Syrian envoy said the aim of the debate was to “fuel the flames of terrorism” in his country and that a simple measure to help the Syrian people would be “to stop inciting sectarianism and providing arms” and pitting the Syrian people against one another.

US ambassador to the HRC Eileen Donahoe said: “Anyone who heard the Syrian ambassador should be aware that his comments were borderline out of touch with reality.”

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov told the meeting: “It is important that the Syrian government cooperates with the ICRC” on the proposed humanitarian ceasefire.

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.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said fighting must end so that 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.

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.

An ICRC spokeswoman said Tuesday that aid got through to Homs and another city, Idlib, and was handed over to the Syrian Red Crescent but has not been distributed because of fighting.

The Syrian authorities have not replied to the appeal for humanitarian ceasefires, she added.

Pillay also reiterated her view that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Before walking out of the debate, the Syrian envoy said he was not pretending that the human rights situation in his country was “perfect,” acknowledging that services were lacking.

But he accused armed groups of 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,” he said.

France reacted to the Syrian walkout calling it “another illustration — added to so many other dramatic examples — of the Syrian regime’s deliberate will to choose the option of violence and the pursuit of repression.”

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero added: “This will increase a bit more the isolation of the regime in Damascus.”

The resolution set for discussion by the HRC calls on Assad’s regime to “permit humanitarian agencies to deliver vital relief goods and services to civilians affected by the violence, especially in Homs, Deraa, 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.”