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UN Rights Chief Urges 'Humanitarian Cease-Fire' In Syria


United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay says the situation in Syria is "dire" and has called on President Bashar al-Assad's government to declare an immediate "humanitarian cease-fire."

Speaking at an emergency session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Pillay said she has received reports of a rapidly deteriorating situation and serious rights violations in Syria.

She accused Assad's regime of "unspeakable violations" of human rights and urged Damascus to grant access to independent international observers and humanitarian teams.

The UN meeting came as government forces on February 28 pushed ahead with their assault on Homs and other opposition areas.

The UN Security Council was told that the death toll during Assad's 11-month crackdown has topped 7,500.

In Geneva, Pillay said some 500 children have been killed since the beginning of Syria's uprising 11 months ago -- 80 of them since January.

"The human rights situation has deteriorated significantly since November 2011," she said. "[The report] found that the government has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect the population; its forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the state."

Pillay reiterated her call for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court, where officials could be pursued for alleged atrocities.

The Syrian delegation walked out of the meeting, with its leader, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, calling the session a "sterile discussion."

"Considering that the whole aim of holding this session is to fuel the flames of terrorism and prolong the crisis in my country, by expressing a message of support through this session to the armed groups and considering the fact that the concepts of protection and humanitarian intervention are being manipulated in a flagrant manner for political reasons, my delegation declares its withdrawal from this sterile discussion," Hamoui said. "We also declare that we do not recognize the legitimacy of the session, nor the legitimacy of any malicious and prejudiced resolutions it may adopt."

'Widespread' Rights Violations

The U.S. representative at the emergency UN meeting criticized Syria's envoy for storming out, saying the walkout and fiery speech he gave demonstrated "the delusional" nature of Assad's regime.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said an argument can be made that Assad is a war criminal.

Tunisia President Moncef Marzouki says his country is ready to offer asylum to Assad as part of a negotiated solution to Syria's conflict.

Those developments came as the UN's Human Rights Council was considering a draft resolution condemning Syria's crackdown for "widespread and systematic" human rights violations.

Russia suggested it could vote against the resolution, saying the debate must take place in a "constructive and depoliticized manner." But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov urged Syria to allow relief workers to deliver aid.

Iran formally objected to the debate in Geneva, but its observer status at the forum does not allow Tehran to vote on the resolution.

In Paris, the French Foreign Ministry said the United Nations Security Council was expected to start work on a potential new draft resolution aimed at increasing pressure to halt the violence in Syria and enable humanitarian access to victims.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he felt "immense frustration" trying to get safety guarantees from Syrian authorities so that international relief work could evacuate people wounded in Homs and other areas targeted by government forces. Juppe also had strong words of criticism the legitimacy of a weekend referendum in Syria on constitutional referendums that were proposed by Assad.

"All limits of barbarity have already been exceeded," Juppe said. "The numbers, which have been authenticated by international organizations, show that we've had about 8,000 deaths, hundreds of children have been killed, even tortured. And all of us who see this spectacle feel profound indignation when we see the Syrian president parading around a polling station in Damascus for this phony referendum."

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said France hopes Russia and China will change their stance and not oppose a new UN Security Council resolution on Syria. The two permanent Security Council members vetoed a draft resolution proposed by the Arab League on the Syrian crisis on March 4.

One Western journalist injured last week in Homs by government artillery -- photographer Paul Conroy from Britain's "Sunday Times" -- was smuggled out of Syria by rebels overnight and was said to be safe in Lebanon.

But "Le Figaro" -- the employer of injured French journalist Edith Bouvier -- said she was still in Syria after French President Nicholas Sarkozy had announced that she had been evacuated to Lebanon. Sarkozy later retracted his statement.

Based on AP, AFP, dpa, AFP, and Reuters reports

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