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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    It is absolutely disgusting that Assad can make accusations of Terrorist activity, lie and play innocent when the people that are being killed and tortured are women & children and totally get away with it!
    The UN, US, Arab Nations etc., all want this to end, but because Assad knows the "GAME" and how to play he is getting all the time he needs to kill and torture the Syrian People

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    It seems that the western media will only reports on what suites their agenda. Stop this one sided reporting

    Or the Syrian Govt could allow full & unrestricted media access, then we wouldn't be reliant on those who obviously have a vested in denigrating the regime?

    Or maybe the regime fears that would be even worse publicity than the propaganda spread by its enemies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    No doubt that Assad is an evil despot. BUT what happens when evil despots are overthrown? Is Iraq a better place? Most ethnic & religious minorities have fled for their lives since we invaded.
    Are Egypt & Libya better places? Again, religious & ethnic minorities are very worried in these countries with certain factions too dangerous for the police to arrest.
    We should be careful who we support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    @327ColadadelCid Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia, WAS war on Czechoslovakia and war on Germany WAS justified. But you know how these things go, no one picks a fight with the big bully.

    @331 AndyEsbjerg Regarding Targeted assassination. Beware! That goes both ways as Israel discovered.

    1990 Iraq-Kuwait war-Bush Sr. did not invade Iraq,he saw no path out. Wise Wisdom-what way out Syria?

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Just like Kuwaiti babies were being thrown out of incubators by Saddam's Iraqi troops that turned out to be lies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    President Assad was found hiding in a cupboard like Claudius when his father died, and it is fantasy to think he can order his soldiers to stop fighting. Thousands of Syrian soldiers have been killed or injured, some captured and beheaded, others tortured to make internet videos. The civil war is not going to end this month or the next, it may spread to Turkey and the Lebanon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Children? A 16yo with a granade launcher in his hands, encouraged by parents and like minded people? Or a peaceful, playful kid who was just passing by? There is no excuse when deliberately killing any peaceful people, including children. The problem is how to understand who's peaceful and who's not, and who defines it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    To all who don't believe if this is true go to Youtube and see all the dead children (if you can stomach it) Assad needs to come down, just like all the other dictators, him and his nasty wife.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    It seems that the western media will only reports on what suites their agenda. Stop this one sided reporting or you'll lose what little credibility u have left.

    Fine. Would you like to see more coverage of,e.g., Toulouse murders, innitially ascribed to "right wing racists", with the coverage significantly dropping when it transpired the culprit was actually a Muslim fanatic?

  • Comment number 347.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    The reports of the Syrian Government killing children make chilling reading. Hopefully when the pointless killing stops the world will hold those responsible to account. However, the killing fields of Cambodia and, more lately Sri Lanka, have shown that those responsible can look forward to a long life even after the murders have ceased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    I lived under an oppressive rejime before, until I managed to escape to a country where my rights are protected by law.

    But not everyone gets a chance to escape and I therefore understand when people in Syria got out to the streets to ask for for their basic rights. They are tired of living under constant opression and discrimination. They got bullets in return....

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Assad is an evil despot certainly, as were Sadaam and Gadaffi. The point that's being overlooked is that after they were removed things got WORSE not better.
    Sometimes the only way to keep things safe is by having an evil despotic dictator!
    I can't help thinking that intervention serves other causes than liberty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    46. SPOOTA



    Where was the oil in Kosovo?

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.


    Complete rubbish. An orchestrated propaganda campaign by Washington and its allies whose objective is transparently clear - retaining control of the Middle East

    And putinesque Russia continues to supply weapons to the homicidal Assad regime becasue it wants ditto; plus, to retain its last naval base in the region after losing such buyers for its weapons as Iraq and Libya.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    'Couldn't a single cruise missile just destroy the Presidential Palace and this whole mess would all be done?'

    You think that would make it all go away? If we have learnt one thing over the last decade it's that the main problems start after military intervention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    'Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad have been accused of using children as fighters in violation of international conventions banning the recruitment of child soldiers, a senior U.N. official said on Monday'

    It seems that the western media will only reports on what suites their agenda. Stop this one sided reporting or you'll lose what little credibility u have left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    If someone takes a weapon and fights againts own government and people, he and others could be killed, and that's fair, noone should intervene.

    However, if there are ethnic cleansings, mass killings, etc - that's where intervention should happen, that's where it's a moral offence not to intervene.

    This particular pickle is pure dirty politics; so called democracy is an evil excuse these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Miss Pilay,
    heard your interview on the BBC (British Broadcasting Crap) and as a result I will simply suggest that you try and comprehend the following...Covetousness is a sin. Translation: Tunisia only has received proper remuneration during the so-called Arab Spring because they are an original. All the rest i.e. Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and yes Syria, are all covetous copycats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    This is just giving Israel a bone to help them calm down about those illegal settlements she mentioned.


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