Last Updated: Thu Mar 29, 2012 08:46 am (KSA) 05:46 am (GMT)

Enough evidence to charge Assad: Pillay; U.S. senators urge arming Syria’s opposition

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said that since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad commands the security forces, he can be held responsible for the crimes they commit. (Reuters)
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said that since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad commands the security forces, he can be held responsible for the crimes they commit. (Reuters)

There is enough evidence to bring human rights charges against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his crackdown on protesters, U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay said in comments broadcast Wednesday, as U.S. senators recommended providing weapons to the Syrian opposition.

In an interview with the BBC broadcast Wednesday but recorded earlier, Pillay said the president’s role as commander of the security forces left him responsible for their actions during the unrest.

She also highlighted what she said was the regime’s systematic targeting of children.

The Syrian army’s use of heavy weapons against civilians in densely populated areas was a crime under international law, said Pillay.

“Factually there’s enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces, (and) must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level,” she said, according to AFP .

“President Assad could simply issue an order to stop the killings and the killings would stop...,” the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Pillay told the BBC.

“So this is the kind of thing that judges hearing cases on crimes against humanity will be looking at on command responsibility.”

“It’s just horrendous”

Pillay also spoke of evidence she had seen that the regime was systematically targeting children in its bid to stamp out resistance.

Hundreds of children had been detained and tortured, said the South African lawyer.

“It’s just horrendous.”

Pillay said the U.N. Security Council now had enough reliable evidence to warrant a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“There is no statute of limitations so people like him can go on for a very long time but one day they will have to face justice,” she said, referring to Assad.

The BBC interview with Pillay was broadcast on Wednesday but recorded before Damascus reportedly accepted the peace plan set out by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, a development greeted with skepticism by the West.

Syrian forces on Wednesday launched fresh attacks on rebel bastions as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged Assad to immediately implement the U.N.-Arab League peace plan.

At least 40 people were killed as Syrian forces backed by tanks attacked the central town of Qalaat al-Madiq and other areas Wednesday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.

The U.N. says the conflict has already claimed more than 9,000 lives in the past year.

U.S. slams continuing violence in Syria

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Assad had not taken the necessary steps to implement the peace plan crafted by Annan.

The United States was concerned over “arrests and violence continuing in Syria today,” Nuland told reporters, vowing to “keep the pressure” on the Syrian leader.

“We will judge him on his actions, not his promises,” she added, echoing comments made Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Senior U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, went a step further.

Republican Senator John McCain presented a toughly worded text co-sponsored by four other senators including Lindsey Graham and independent Joe Lieberman condemning “the mass atrocities committed by the government of Syria” and backing the right of the Syrian people to defend themselves.

The non-binding resolution backed calls by some Arab leaders “to provide the people of Syria with the means to defend themselves against Bashar al-Assad and his forces, including through the provision of weapons and other material support.”

The senators urged President Barack Obama to implement such efforts, and also called on his administration to take “all necessary precautions” to ensure such support for the opposition does not fall into the hands of individuals aligned with al-Qaeda or other terror groups.

Arming Syrian opposition

Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Sunday on the need to send “non-lethal” aid to Syrian rebels, including communications equipment, but the White House has said further militarization of the conflict was not the way forward.

McCain is one of the U.S. lawmakers most openly supportive of the Syrian opposition, and at the resolution’s unveiling he demanded: “How many have to die before the United States will take a leadership role in trying to end the mass slaughter that's taking place in Syria?”

“It’s not a fair fight,” McCain said.

Regime forces are using “tanks and artillery against AK-47s,” and the weapons for Assad’s forces “are being supplied and resupplied by Russia and Iran,” he added, criticizing Moscow and Tehran for providing heavy weaponry.

“Meanwhile the United States of America does nothing.”

McCain is also strongly in favor of air strikes against Syrian forces, but that proposal was not in the resolution.

“We specifically did not include a call for the use of U.S. or allied air power here because that might dissuade a lot of our colleagues” from voting for the resolution, Lieberman told reporters.

Lieberman expressed confidence that Democrats would support the text.

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