Syria authorities target children, says UN rights chief


UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay: "President Assad could simply issue an order to stop the killings"

Syrian authorities are systematically detaining and torturing children, the United Nations' human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has told the BBC.

Ms Pillay said President Bashar al-Assad could end the detentions and stop the killing of civilians immediately, simply by issuing an order.

Syria has accepted a peace plan, amid scepticism about its intentions.

Most opposition groups have now agreed that the Syrian National Council will formally represent the Syrian people.

Navi Pillay, in an interview with the BBC before Syria accepted the plan, said Mr Assad would face justice for the abuses carried out by his security forces.

Asked if he bore command responsibility for the abuses, Ms Pillay said: "That is the legal situation. Factually there is enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces [and] must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level.

"Because President Assad could simply issue an order to stop the killings and the killings would stop."

Ms Pillay said she believed that the UN Security Council had enough reliable information to warrant referring Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).


We have been here before. Last November, President Assad agreed to a deal proposed by the Arab League which had many of the same elements as the Annan plan - withdrawal of government forces from residential areas, freeing of political prisoners and good-faith negotiations with the opposition.

None of those promises was kept.

The Annan plan contains no timetable for implementation, but for it to get any momentum, it must produce results on the ground in a matter of days.

The Syrian opposition groups who have been meeting in Istanbul this week are unanimous in their belief that President Assad is just playing for time. So they are convinced they will never have to confront the dilemma over whether to sit down and negotiate with him.

At Russia's request, the Annan plan makes no mention of any requirement for President Assad to leave office. But almost all the opposition groups say that requirement is non-negotiable; all they would be willing to talk about is how he leaves office, and what kind of system follows his departure.

"I feel that investigation and prosecution is a crucial element to deter and call a stop to these violations," she said.

She listed what she called "horrendous" treatment of children during the unrest.

"They've gone for the children - for whatever purposes - in large numbers. Hundreds detained and tortured... it's just horrendous," she said.

"Children shot in the knees, held together with adults in really inhumane conditions, denied medical treatment for their injuries, either held as hostages or as sources of information."

Ms Pillay said anyone who committed such violations would be held to account.

"There is no statute of limitations so people like [Mr Assad] can go on for a very long time but one day they will have to face justice."

On Tuesday, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, said they had received claims that the rebel Free Syrian Army was using children as fighters.

Opposition meets

The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began a year ago.

Late on Tuesday, several Syrian dissident groups meeting in Istanbul agreed to recognise the Syrian National Council as the official representative of the Syrian people.

The BBC's Jonathan Head at the gathering said none of the delegates he spoke to believed President Assad was sincere, and the Syrian opposition would never accept any deal allowing him to remain in power.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said President Bashar al-Assad would be judged by events.

But our correspondent says their disunity was openly on display, with constant disputes and walkouts.

Earlier, a spokesman for UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said he considered the Syrian acceptance of his six-point peace plan an "important initial step" but that implementation was key.

Mr Annan - currently in Beijing where he has held talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao - has written to President Assad urging him to put his commitments into immediate effect.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said President Assad would be judged by events.

"Given Assad's history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions," she said.

"If he is ready to bring this dark chapter in Syria's history to a close he can prove it by immediately ordering regime forces to stop firing and begin withdrawing from populated areas."

However, there were reports of further violence on Wednesday.

Annan's six-point peace plan

1. Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people

2. UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians

3. All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause

4. Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons

5. Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists

6. Authorities to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully

London-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that government forces backed by tanks had stormed the central town of Qalaat al-Madi at dawn, following a 17-day barrage.

A local activist told AFP news agency that fighters with the Free Syrian Army had withdrawn from the area.

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Baghdad on Wednesday are expected to strongly back Mr Annan's peace mission, calling for talks between the Syrian opposition and government.

Syria is expected to dominate an Arab League summit in the Iraqi capital on Thursday.

Speaking to the BBC, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi reiterated that the league had not called for the arming of the Syrian opposition. He said it was instead a decision for individual member states.

The six-point plan calls for Mr Assad's government to remove troops and heavy weapons from population centres and for all parties to allow a daily two-hour ceasefire for humanitarian aid to reach affected areas. The plan also requests that authorities release those detained in the uprising.

However, it does not impose any deadline for Mr Assad, or call for him to leave power.

The BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN says that, despite the scepticism, this is the first strategy for ending the conflict that has the backing of the entire Security Council, including Syria's allies Russia and China.

She says it seems it was this international unity which forced President Assad to accept the plan.


More on This Story

Syria's war War in Syria


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    its sad that the bbc are presenting this as main story Navi Pillay should keep quiet she has no evidence for her claims. This report just shows that the UN is just a spinless propaganda tool and they only speak up without evidence using hearsay when summoned . I've taken a look at commision of enquiry syria (google it) testimonies of "former" soldiers how do we know they are the terrorists !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    And what will the UN do? Nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    One of the reasons it is difficult to handle Syria - and the main reason for reticence by Russia and China - is "the boy who cried wolf" syndrome in action.
    We have been caught lying and reciting such atrocity stories - quietly admitted as 'wrong' at later times - so often that our trust in the accusations is eroded.
    And that is a pitiful position to be in. As the boy who cried wolf found out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    given the condemnation of this piece of reporting by many contributors here, perhaps the BBC or even the author would wish to say something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    1 Hour ago
    'The TRUTH is no matter what Assad does, he will always be protrayed as the villan. The media (backed by west power) will not stop until all the middle east is in chaos.
    I am all for democracy, but no country in the world will stand for not-peacful protesters who had weapons to start with....'

    Sounds a lot like Israel, who you no doubt support as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    It would seem that president for life Assad is getting a head start on ensuring that when his son inherits the "presidency", as he did from his father, the potential dissidents against his reign will be already removed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Ms Pillay speaks of there being no excuse for the use of heavy weaponry against densely populated civilian areas. She speaks of it being a crime under international law.

    How the hell are Bush and Blair still walking free then? How many children died in Iraq? How many continue to die in wars the US and UK start?
    Why is it only the children of oil-rich countries 'we' bomb or talk of saving?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Who is arming the Opposition?
    The problem we have in this world is "single side story" and who is telling it.
    We all seat in our chair and make comments based on which channel we listen to.
    No gov. will talk to any armed oppositon, even a democratic gov. talkless of unelect gov. like Asad.
    We need to make both side drop their arms rather asking a Gov to surender first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    44. Oh, come off it, the Syrian government has been making spurious claims left right and centre about all the rebels being armed gangs with close to zero evidence backing up their claims.

    If the Assad wants to end the allegations he could allow monitors into the camps or even end child detention completely. Otherwise, he only has himself to blame when UN officials say these things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Nice and great post.

    Thanks & regards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.


  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    What is happening in Syria is without absolute doubt inhuman, and i could only wonder as to what is really going on in the minds of Assad and his allays. This brutality could have long ended had it not being for China and Russia`s vetoes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I used to think the BBC was neutral at reporting conflicts. But the reporting in Syria makes me question this?
    Someone like Navi Pillay in such a high position should not open her mouth without evidence to back her statements. Remember weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The Syrian "revolution" obviously did not have much support within Syria. Unlike Gaddafi, who relied on mercenaries, Assad has a large armed force who have not revolted.

    The best outcome is for the rebel groups to negotiate. I cannot see any appetite for regime removal within Syria or in the world community.

    And neither side is innocent of atrocities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Yet another monster (Assad) allowed to plough through his peoples rights. I am disgusted that the world has stood by and allowed him to do this, he awaits the same fate as Gaddaffi. Poor Syria, so badly let down, by all of the so called civilised nations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Attrosites are happening on both sides, it only seems we hear is one side of the story.

    What about what is currently happening in Libya? With gadaffi gone there is still volience and revenage killings, even illegal prisons.

    But of course we don't want to hear about that because our side won?

    Is there any difference between Rebels and Terroists? maybe just the side your on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    It’s a little surprising that such apparent atrocities against children have not been evidenced before: surely those unfortunate parents would have raised a hue and cry. Ms Pillai should produce irrefutable evidence immediately before this becomes the WMDs of Iraq.
    Kudos to Kofi: the ball is in Assad’s court now. If he doesn’t act positively, he will lose his international support base.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    It's a deplorable fact that it is always the women and children who become the biggest targets in war. This is exactly the same tack used by animals such as lions - the beasts of this world. So, what does this say about the "pretend humans" in this and other wars??? It doesn't say a lot for the "men" who promote war. Not a long way from the animal kingdom are they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    "The headline says Syria systematically target children"
    Is this the reason why only one more paragraph talks about this horrific crime? BBC please start been neutral, nothing about how this is happening and on which account? Clinton should shut up & stop using Syria,
    Did Navi investigate the children that died in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan under NATO bombing and will she bring Bush to ICC

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    We all bear the palour of guilt, that in 2012 the world stands by and attempts to talk a desperate tyrant out of murdering his own people. Every regional conflict has its own dynamics, but the constant seems the inability of the remainder of the world to cohesively exert a threatening force and take appropriate action. I admire Mr Annan's tenacity, but Mr Assad has proven himself untrustworthy.


Page 22 of 24


More Middle East stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.