15 Oct 2011

UN rights boss warns of possible civil war in Syria

10:15 am on 15 October 2011

The United Nations' top human rights official has warned that Syria's ruthless repression of anti-government protesters could drive the country into full-blown civil war.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also said that the death toll in the pro-democracy demonstrations that began in March now exceeds 3,000 and includes at least 187 children.

Navi Pillay, a former war crimes judge, says the onus is on all members of the international community to take protective action in a collective manner.

"As more members of the military refuse to attack civilians and change sides, the crisis is already showing worrying signs of descending into an armed struggle," she said.

The United States and Europe have imposed a sanctions on Syrian oil exports and several businesses and have pushed, so far in vain, for UN sanctions.

Thousands had been injured and arrested by Syrian forces, including many tortured in custody, Pillay said. "Family members inside and outside the country have been targeted for harassment, intimidation, threats and beatings."

Syria blames the violence on foreign-backed armed groups who it says have killed 1,100 people.

Authorities have barred most foreign media, making it difficult to verify accounts by activists and officials.

Ms Pillay stopped short of specifically calling for the UN Security Council to authorise the use of military force in Syria to protect civilians.

Earlier this month, Russia and China vetoed a European-drafted resolution backed by Western powers urging Syria to halt its six-month crackdown.