UN says 307 children killed during Syrian crackdown

Syrian authorities cracking down on opposition protesters have killed at least 307 children, the United Nation's human rights chief said Friday, urging world powers to refer these and other allegations of Syrian "crimes against humanity" to the International Criminal Court.
Syrian families and their children carry pictures of Syrian boy Hamza al-Khatib, who anti-government activists say was tortured and killed by Syrian security forces. (Jamal Saidi/Reuters)

Syrian authorities killed at least 307 children in their crackdown on opposition protesters, the UN human rights chief said Friday, urging world powers to refer these and other allegations of Syrian "crimes against humanity" to the International Criminal Court.

Syria's President Bashar Assad — trying to defeat an 8-month-old revolt challenging his autocratic rule — faces widespread international condemnation and sanctions over the bloody crackdown. The UN says more than 4,000 people have died.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said new reports of violence in Syria reinforce the need for the Security Council to submit the situation in the country to the Hague-based court.

"In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," Pillay told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The 47-nation rights council responded by passing a resolution backed by 37 African, European, Asian, Arab and American members chiding Syria for "gross and systematic violations of human rights."

4 countries opposed motion

Russia and China were among four countries to vote against the motion. The two permanent members of the Security Council have condemned the bloodshed, but are resisting further international pressure on Syria. Six countries abstained.

The resolution also established the post of a special human rights investigator to probe abuses in Syria. But the final draft removed direct references to the Security Council, and to "international accountability mechanisms" like the ICC.

Syria's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Fayssal al-Hamwi, said the U.N. action would "not in any way be in the interest of the people of Syria and will not help it put an end to its crisis."

The council's third emergency meeting on Syria came amid mounting international pressure on the Assad regime. The U.N. says the nation is on the verge of civil war, and the Arab League, European Union, Turkey and the United States have all approved measures to sanction the Syrian economy, which relies on oil and tourism.

Pillay said her office had received reliable information that the death toll since the start of the eight-month uprising was now "much more" than 4,000.

"The Syrian authorities' continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war," she said.

An independent panel's report to the Human Rights Council this week said it found widespread evidence of "crimes against humanity" and use of excessive force against civilians.

The chairman of the international commission of inquiry, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian professor, told the council Friday that the 307 children killed included 262 boys and 45 girls. He said November was the deadliest month so far — with 56 children killed.