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Syria: UN Committee Condemns Human Rights Violations

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UNITED NATIONS — A key U.N. committee voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to condemn human rights violations by President Bashar Assad's government and call for an immediate end to all violence, signaling growing international opposition to Syria's eight-month crackdown on civilians.

The nonbinding resolution adopted by the General Assembly's human rights committee calls on Syrian authorities to implement an Arab League peace plan, agreed to earlier this month, "without further delay." It urges the withdrawal of government tanks from the streets, the release of political prisoners, a halt to attacks on civilians, and allowing observers into the country.

The resolution, sponsored by Britain, France and Germany, was approved by a vote of 122-13 with 41 abstentions. It must now be approved at a plenary session of the 193-member world body, where its adoption is virtually certain.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said in a statement that the committee's first-ever resolution on Syria's human rights violations "has sent a clear message that it does not accept abuse and death as a legitimate path to retaining power."

Syria tried to prevent a vote on the resolution, introducing a motion to take "no action" but it was overwhelmingly defeated.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari again accused Britain, France and Germany of "waging a media, political and diplomatic war against Syria" and encouraging armed groups to engage in violence rather than national dialogue with the government.

Although the European powers sponsored the resolution, he said, "it is not a secret that the United States of America is the mastermind and main instigator of the political campaign against my country."

The resolution had more than 60 co-sponsors including Syria's fellow Arab nations Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain and Kuwait, and neighbor Turkey, which has been outspoken in its criticism of Assad's crackdown and is hosting Syrian opposition groups. Syria only got support from Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe who objected to targeting a single country for what they called political motives.

It was a victory for the three European powers who failed last month to win approval for a legally binding Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against Syria for its violent crackdown because of Russian and Chinese vetoes.

Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said the resolution sent "a strong message to the Syrian authorities to stop violence immediately, and also a sign of hope to the Syrian people that their suffering is not ignored."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the wide international support and warned that "as long as the crisis in Syria continues, the international pressure on the Assad regime will only intensify."

France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud called the vote "a great success," adding "we do hope that some members of the Security Council will receive the message."

He noted that Russia and China abstained on the resolution.

Araud said the European sponsors will wait for a report from the Human Rights Council's independent international investigation of events in Syria before considering next steps.

Human Rights Watch's U.N. Director Philippe Bolopion urged the Security Council to "get to work on a resolution imposing an arms embargo, referring the case to the International Criminal Court and sanctioning the Syrian leaders involved in the abuse."

Ja'afari acknowledged that Syria "has some problems" and needs to move forward on a process of comprehensive political, economic and social reforms – but that it would not be influenced by the resolution.

"All these ridiculous plots and maneuvers will not prevent us from protecting our country and our people from any foreign ambitions," he warned.

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