UN calls for investigation into Houla killings in Syria

Navi Pillay's representative: "Those who order, help or fail to stop attacks on civilians are individually criminally liable for their actions"

The UN Human Rights Council has called for an investigation into the killing of more than 100 civilians at Houla, and condemned Syria for the massacre.

The forum passed the resolution with a big majority and wants investigators to identify the perpetrators.

Evidence could potentially be used in future criminal prosecutions.

Earlier the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said the killings in Houla may amount to crimes against humanity.

She urged the international community to "make all efforts to end impunity" and "ensure accountability for perpetrators" of such "atrocities".

Residents of the village of Taldou, in Houla, said militiamen had been sent in early on Saturday after the Syrian army unleashed a barrage of heavy weapons late on Friday in response to a local anti-government protest.

'Criminal liability'

Ms Pillay's office reported on Tuesday that UN investigators had found most of the 108 victims had been shot at close range or stabbed.

"These acts may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes, and may be indicative of a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations that have been perpetrated with impunity," Ms Pillay said, in a speech to the council read out by a representative.

The victims of the massacre in Houla are laid to rest in a mass grave (28 May 2012) A government investigation into the Houla massacre blamed armed rebels

Those who ordered attacks were "individually criminally liable", she added, and urged the UN Security council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move opposed by Russia and China.

As Syria is not a state party to the ICC the court has no jurisdiction to indict its citizens without a Security Council referral.

Meanwhile opposition activists said there had been another mass killing of civilians by pro-government militiamen.

Thirteen factory workers were forced off a bus and executed on Thursday in al-Buwaida al-Sharqiya, near the western town of Qusair, they said.

Several videos posted online showed bodies with severe wounds to the head and stomach, consistent with being shot at close range.

Houla massacre

Map locator
  • Residents of Taldou village in the Houla region say that after an anti-government protest on 25 May, the army began an 18-hour bombardment
  • Some accounts say rebel fighters attacked the military position from where shellfire was coming
  • Unconfirmed reports say pro-government shabiha militia entered Taldou, killing people at home, shooting them in the head or cutting their throats
  • UN observers say at least 108 people died, including 49 children and 34 women. No more than 20 appeared to have been killed by shellfire
  • A government investigation blames armed groups seeking to trigger foreign military intervention

The activists' account cannot be independently verified, but twice in the past week UN observers on the ground have corroborated similar claims.

Kofi Annan 'frustrated'

The UN Human Rights Council, the world's top human rights body, met on Friday in emergency session - the fourth time it has done so to discuss Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

In the vote, 41 members voted in favour of the US-backed resolution condemning Syria, while Russia, China and Cuba voted against it. Two other countries abstained and one was absent.

The resolution also specifies that there should be an "international, transparent, independent and prompt investigation".

The UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, said he was frustrated at the continued violence despite the acceptance by all sides of his six-point peace plan, under which a ceasefire came into force in April.

Foreign arms blamed

On Thursday, a Syrian government investigation into the Houla massacre blamed armed rebel groups seeking to trigger foreign military intervention.

The US permanent representative to the UN, Susan Rice, dismissed the finding as a "blatant lie".

Syria's representative to the Human Rights Council attacked the resolution's sponsors, among them Turkey and Qatar, saying they bore responsibility for some of the deaths, because, he claimed, they had been supplying weapons to rebel groups.

Syria's ambassador to the UN, Faisal al-Hamwi: "The objective behind these efforts is the cheap political ploy of targeting Syria"

"No rational person could believe what is being said by some of the sponsors of this session... it is truly despicable," Faisal al-Hamwi said.

Russia has blocked Security Council action against Syria's government, and the Russian foreign ministry appears to support Damascus over Houla.

It issued a statement saying: "The tragedy in Houla showed what can be the outcome of financial aid and smuggling of modern weapons to rebels, recruitment of foreign mercenaries and flirting with various sorts of extremists".

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia was not supporting any side in the conflict. And he denied that Russia was supplying Syria with arms "which can be used in a civilian conflict".

Earlier this week, Western diplomats and a human rights organisation reported that a Russian ship carrying arms docked at the Syrian port of Tartus.

Speaking in Oslo on Friday the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said she did not believe that Russia was neutral.

"We know there has been a very consistent arms trade, even during the past year, coming from Russia to Syria. We also believe the continuous supply of arms from Russia has strengthened the Assad regime," she told a news conference.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is meeting representatives of the Syrian opposition in Turkey.

Mr Hague told the BBC that the situation was so grave and deteriorating so rapidly that all options were still on the table.

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