Rights group Amnesty International lambasted the United Nations Security Council on Thursday as “tired, out of step and increasingly unfit for purpose” and said the Syrian government may have committed crimes against humanity by using “lethal” force and “torturing.”
In its annual report, Amnesty said the failure of world powers to take stronger action on Syria was evidence that a sclerotic security council was hamstrung by vested interests, and also warned of abuses arising from Europe’s economic crisis.
Permanent Security Council members Russia, a key arms supplier to Syria, and China have shielded Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from tough sanctions.
The United Nations says at least 9,000 civilians have been killed in Assad’s crackdown on a March 2011 uprising, whereas the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the figure at 12,000. Amnesty said the Security Council had failed to fulfill its mandate to take “prompt and effective” action to preserve international peace and security.
Russia and China have vetoed two Council resolutions which condemned Assad, and they fiercely oppose U.N. sanctions.
“Two countries that are among the top six arms dealers in the world, who are permanent members of the Security Council, may have been voting much more with their pocket in mind,” said Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty.
Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty told Reuters the Security Council should be reformed so that a veto could not be used to block action in cases of gross human rights violations.
“The issue of the failed leadership of the security council -- the most damning example is Syria. It’s a live tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes,” Shetty said.
“There must be a way in which, when it comes to human rights abuse on the scale we’re talking about, the use of veto powers is simply not acceptable,” he said, adding that the number of U.N. observers in Syria should be boosted from the current 260.
Amnesty said it hopes global leaders will redeem themselves at a U.N. meeting in July to agree an Arms Trade Treaty, by taking strong action to stop weapons reaching human rights violators.
Amnesty says the Security Council’s five permanent members -- Britain, the United States, China, Russia and France -- account for some 70 percent of the global arms trade.
“The U.N. meeting .... will be an acid test for politicians to place rights over self-interest and profit,” Amnesty said.
The rights group also said tough austerity measures in Europe should not relieve states of their responsibilities.
“They have a minimum core obligation to make sure that the basic economic social rights of the population are not affected, particularly the poorest sections of society,” Shetty said, referring to plans to cut health, housing and welfare spending.
“Unfortunately decisions are being made without any consideration of the human rights impact,” he added.
“Historically we’ve seen that at times of economic crisis you’ll start looking for scapegoats. The migrants, the refugees, the groups who practice a different religion,” Shetty said.
Protests against austerity cuts and against global economic inequality have erupted around the world, such as the Occupy movement, and Amnesty says some European countries and the United States have used excessive force to quell unrest.
“Failed leadership has gone global in the last year, with politicians responding to protests with brutality or indifference .... It is time to put people before corporations and rights before profits,” Shetty said.
Amnesty, meanwhile, said the Syrian government may have committed crimes against humanity by using “lethal” force and “torturing” detainees in its crackdown on a 14-month uprising.
In its annual report, the human rights watchdog accused the government of President Bashar al-Assad of using “lethal and other excessive force against peaceful protesters.”
“The pattern and scale of state abuses may have constituted crimes against humanity,” Amnesty charged, according to AFP.
Reporting on the revolt, Amnesty described how regime forces deployed tanks in residential areas, shot dead peaceful protesters, detained thousands of people, used torture and held prisoners incommunicado.
“The authorities failed to conduct independent investigations into alleged unlawful killings, torture and other serious human rights violations,” Amnesty said.
Citing an example of a detained protester, the group documented cases of torture, deaths in custody, discrimination against Syria’s Kurdish minority and failure to investigate abuses during the crackdown.
“The body of Tariq Ziad Abdul Qadr, who was arrested on 29 April (2011), was returned to his family in Homs in June bearing numerous injuries,” the report said.
“There were apparent electricity burns on his neck and penis, other burns on his body, marks apparently caused by whipping, and stab wounds in his side,” Amnesty said.
Other examples cited by the report included the case of an unidentified man in the Mediterranean coastal city of Banias, who was detained for three days, beaten, stripped and forced to “lick his own blood off the floor.”
Children were not spared, the report said, citing the case of Mohammad al-Mulaa Esa, 14, from eastern Deir Ezzor. He was reportedly shot dead by security forces for refusing to participate in a pro-government march.