Middle East

Syria: New UN call over human rights abuses

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Hula, near Homs. 13 Nov 2011
Image caption Protests have continued across Syria despite the eight-month crackdown

Germany, France and the UK have tabled a UN resolution calling for an end to human rights violations in Syria.

The resolution, which also calls for the implementation of an Arab League plan to end the violence, was also backed by four Arab countries.

With the UN Security Council divided on Syria, the resolution has been tabled in a committee of the General Assembly.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian violence was becoming "similar to civil war".

He was speaking a day after renegade soldiers were reported to have attacked a key government army base outside Damascus.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, at the UN in New York, says that with Russia and China having vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning government violence in Syria, European nations are looking for a new route to condemn the Syrian government.

They have turned to a key committee of the General Assembly where there are no vetoes.

The fact that Thursday's move was backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Morocco is significant, our correspondent says.

Western diplomats hope that a leading Arab role will eventually help overcome opposition in the Security Council, because requests from the region where the conflict is taking place strongly influence the positions of members, our correspondent says.

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Media captionSimon Collis: ''Forces conduct house to house searches, there are mass detentions, they beat people''

Germany, France and the UK circulated the draft resolution to the General Assembly's human rights committee and Western diplomats said they hope it will be put to a vote next Tuesday.

If approved, it is virtually certain to be adopted by the 193-member General Assembly.

On Wednesday the Arab League - which has suspended Syria - gave Damascus three days to end "bloody repression" and allow in teams of international monitors.

It has threatened Syria with sanctions if it does not co-operate.

Rebel attack

Unconfirmed reports said six government soldiers died when renegade soldiers known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) attacked the Air Force Intelligence building in Harasta early on Wednesday.

Mr Lavrov said such attacks were "completely similar to real civil war".

Image caption The Free Syrian Army said it carried out the attack in Harasta

He said weapons were being smuggled in to Syria to be used by the opposition, and that it was "necessary to stop violence no matter where it comes from" - adding that opposition forces should also be held accountable.

China said on Thursday it was "highly concerned" by the rising violence.

The Arab League plan, drawn up earlier this month, calls on Syria to withdraw tanks from restive cities, cease its attacks on protesters and engage in dialogue with the opposition within two weeks.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to the plan, but failed to honour it.

More than 370 people have been killed since then, say rights groups, in what appears to be the bloodiest month in the eight-month uprising.

The UN says more than 3,500 people have died since protests started in March. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs and militants.

Syria's anti-government protests, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, first erupted in mid-March after the arrest of a group of teenagers who spray-painted a revolutionary slogan on a wall. The protests soon spread, and the UN says 3,500 people have died in the turmoil - mainly protestors but also members of Syria's security forces - while thousands more have been injured.
Although the arrest of the teenagers in the southern city of Deraa first prompted people to take to the streets, unrest has since spread to other areas, including Hama, Homs, Latakia, Jisr al-Shughour and Baniyas. Demonstrators are demanding greater freedom, an end to corruption, and, increasingly, the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad.
The government has responded to the protests with overwhelming military force, sending tanks and troops into towns and cities. Amateur video footage shows tanks and snipers firing on unarmed protesters. There may have been an armed element to the uprising from its early days and army deserters have formed the Free Syrian Army.
Some of the bloodiest events have taken place in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour. In early June, officials claimed 120 security personnel were killed by armed gangs, however protesters said the dead were shot by troops for refusing to kill demonstrators. As the military moved to take control of the town, thousands fled to neighbouring Turkey, taking refuge in camps.
Although the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo have seen pockets of unrest and some protests, it has not been widespread - due partly to a heavy security presence. There have been rallies in the capital - one with an enormous Syrian flag - in support of President Assad, who still receives the backing of many in Syria's middle class, business elite and minority groups.
The Assad family has been in power for 40 years, with Bashar al-Assad inheriting office in 2000. The president has opened up the economy, but has continued to jail critics and control the media. He is from the minority Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shia Islam - but the country's 20 million people are mainly Sunni. The biggest protests have been in Sunni-majority areas.
The uprising has cost 3,500 lives, according to the UN and Jordan's King Abdullah says that President Assad should now step down. The Arab League has suspended Syria's membership and voted for sanctions. The EU has frozen the assets of Syrian officials, placed an arms embargo on Syria and banned imports of its oil. But fears remain of Syria collapsing into civil war.
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