Death toll in Syria protests rises to 2,700-UN rights

09/19/2011 11:42 am ET | Updated Nov 19, 2011

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian security forces have killed 2,700 anti-government protesters since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad started in March, including at least 100 children, the United Nations human rights office said on Monday.

Kyung-wha Kang, deputy U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said her office was prepared to send its confidential list of 50 suspects linked to alleged crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court, if the Security Council refers the situation in Syria to the Hague-based court.

She called on Assad's government to cooperate with an international inquiry into the bloodshed so as to ensure accountability for all violations and to "break the culture of impunity in the country."

"As of today, 2,700 people, including at least 100 children, have been killed by military and security forces since mass protests erupted in mid-March," Kang said in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"Let me conclude by emphasizing the importance of holding perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable. The office has found that such crimes may have been committed in Syria," she said, citing a U.N. report issued in August.

Kang, in response to questions about the office's list of 50 alleged perpetrators, said of the ICC: "Should the court be engaged and request the office's assistance at any stage of its investigation into violations in Syria, the office will be ready to provide them with the information, including the confidential list of names as appropriate."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, speaking in New York, also said that Syria must answer for crimes against humanity.

CRUSHING PROTESTS

Syrian security forces, "backed by tanks, helicopters and snipers" continue to crush protests in cities including Homs, Latakia, Deraa and Damascus, Kang told the 47-member forum.

A large-scale assault in Homs this month had left at least 23 civilians dead and scores injured, she said. "Syrian security forces are reported to have forcibly removed wounded people from hospitals, including from operating rooms, in Homs and prevented medical personnel from reaching the injured."

In more violence on Monday, Syrian security forces killed at least six villagers and two rebel soldiers in a sweep on the countryside north of Homs, activists and residents said.

Syria's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, rejected as biased both Kang's presentation and the findings of the preliminary U.N. report, drawn up by U.N. investigators who were not allowed to enter the country.

"There are many gangs in Syria...These gangs have responded by generating sedition, attacking innocent civilians, destroying police stations and killing a number of members of the police force," he said.

Many have been arrested and confessed that they were "shooting at protesters in order to incite violence," he said.

Syria's government would continue to implement its comprehensive reform program and to protect its citizens and their property, according to Khabbaz Hamoui.

Delegations speaking in support of Syria during the debate included Belarus, Iran and Venezuela.

U.S. ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe denounced the Syrian government's "continued campaign of repression" and reiterated Washington's call for Assad to step down.

"The body count rises on a daily basis," she said, citing allegations in the U.N. report which found Syrian forces responsible for arbitrary executions, detention and torture.

"Again and again, Damascus has blamed armed insurgents for the harm caused to thousands of their citizens who have bled on the streets of Syria...These assertions have no credibility," Donahoe declared.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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