The U.N.’s top human rights official said on Friday that the Syrian forces and allied “shabbiha” militia who stand accused of committing a massacre in Houla may be liable for prosecution for crimes against humanity.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also called for the international community to support the Syria peace plan and a probe into the killing of more than 100 civilians in Houla last week.
“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,” said Pillay, in a speech read out on her behalf to a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Pillay, a former war crimes judge, added: “I reiterate that those who order, assist or fail to stop attacks on civilians are individually criminally liable for their actions.”
She said that without this the country risks descending into a full civil war.
The 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council is meeting in Geneva on Friday to discuss the situation in Syria for the fourth time since the start of violence last year.
Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. have submitted a draft resolution which condemns the “outrageous” killing of 49 children in Houla and calls for a “comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry.”
Other countries back the condemnation of Syria but are resisting a specific reference to the International Criminal Court.
The U.N. Human Rights Council was meeting as government as thousands of people demonstrated against the Assad’s regime in several cities across Syria, despite deadly crackdown.
Government forces summarily executed 12 civilians on their way home from work in a fertilizer factory in Qusayr, activists in the central town told AFP by telephone.
“The workers were on a bus when they were forced to stop at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Qusayr,” said Salim Kabbani of the Local Coordination Committees, which organize protests on the ground.
“Regime forces tied their hands behind their backs and shot them.”
Kabbani said abuses had become routine in Qusayr, a town southwest of the flashpoint central city of Homs. “The checkpoint where the workers were killed is dangerous, and people are often tortured there.”
Several areas of Qusayr have been under non-stop shelling by government forces, Kabbani said. “We have a very high number of wounded, and we fear many of them will die because we don’t have the medical materials we need to treat them.”
Amateur video posted on YouTube by activists showed bodies lain out side by side, several with bullet wounds to the head.
The footage, purportedly shot when rebel fighters reached the scene to recover the bodies, included the voice of one man crying out: “This is my son, my son,” as he tugged in vain at the leg of a corpse lying face up, his blue shirt and white trousers covered in blood.
Another video posted on Friday showed hundreds of people in Qusayr taking to the streets for a joint funeral for the slain workers.
A man bearing the Syrian independence flag led the cortege. Crowds chanted: “Oh God, we only have you to turn to,” and: “We won’t surrender, we won’t surrender.”
Green branches were laid on the white shrouds wrapped over the corpses as they were carried by pallbearers through the town.