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Syria storms out of U.N. rights meeting

by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters

February 28, 2012 | 1:08 pm

People shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after heavy shelling by government forces in Sermeen near the northern city of Idlib on Feb. 28. Photo by REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

People shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after heavy shelling by government forces in Sermeen near the northern city of Idlib on Feb. 28. Photo by REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva stormed out of the U.N. Human Rights Council Tuesday after demanding angrily that countries stop “inciting sectarianism and providing arms” to opposition forces in his country.

Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui said sanctions were preventing Damascus from buying medicines and fuel and then abruptly left the Geneva forum’s emergency debate called at the request of Gulf countries and Turkey, and backed by the West.

“We reaffirm to all those alleged friends of the Syrian people that the simple step to immediately help the Syrian people is to stop inciting sectarianism, providing arms and weapons and funding and putting the Syrian people one against the other,” he said.

“Unjust and unilateral sanctions imposed by some countries on the Syrian people are preventing access to medicines, to fuel in all forms as well as electricity, and are also impeding bank transfers to buy these materials.”

The European Union imposed sanctions on seven Syrian cabinet ministers Tuesday for their role in a bloody crackdown on dissent, a move aimed at forcing President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

“As we speak, the ruthless campaign of repression against the civilian population of Syria is going on. Women, men and children are being killed, massively, indiscriminately, by their own state security forces,” Portugal’s foreign minister Paulo Sacadura Cabral Portas told the talks on behalf of the EU.

The main U.N. human rights body had been expected to condemn Syria Tuesday for using heavy weapons on residential areas and persecuting opponents, its fourth rebuke to Assad in an 11-month uprising.

But after hours of debate, it decided to put off action until Thursday on a draft resolution presented by Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey with backing from Western powers including the United States and European Union (EU).

Earlier, Khabbaz Hamoui said some powers wished to use the session to politicize human rights with “slander and libel” against his country so as to “fuel flames of terrorism.”

“The Syrian ambassador’s comments (in his speech to the Council) were borderline out of touch with reality,” U.S. human rights ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters.

They were as “delusional” as his government’s holding of a referendum at a time when it was wreaking violence on its own people, she said.

U.S. SLAMS “BRUTAL CAMPAIGN”

During the debate, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said that only the Syrian people could decide their country’s political future.

“The important thing today is that we give a chance to the Syrians themselves to overcome this crisis,” he said.

“Today it is clear aims to instill democracy through force are doomed to disaster and achieve the opposite. What is important today is that we do not allow for a full scale civil war in Syria.”

Human Rights Watch called for both Russia and China to join in condemning Syria’s abuses. “Russia and China must stop providing the Syrian government with diplomatic coverage and join the rest of the world in clearly condemning the violations,” the New York-based group said in a statement.

Esther Brimmer, U.S. assistant secretary of state, said that

“Assad and his criminal cohort are waging a brutal campaign of slaughter, bombardment, torture and arrest that has already murdered thousands of women, men and children.”

“Bashar al-Assad must go, and there must be a Syrian-led democratic political transition that meets the long-suppressed aspirations of the Syrian people,” she said.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was appalled at the rapidly deteriorating rights and humanitarian situation in Syria and the shelling of Homs.

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, reiterated that Syria should be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The 47-member forum, which has no legal force, looked set to adopt a resolution condemning Syria’s “continued widespread and systematic violations,” including the killing and persecution of protesters, diplomats said.

The draft resolution deplores “the use of heavy artillery and tanks to attack residential areas ... that have led to the death of thousands of innocent civilians.”

“There will be a wide majority of states in favor. It will pass easily,” an Arab diplomat told Reuters before the meeting.

“We should expect Russia, Cuba and Ecuador to vote against it. On China, is not clear,” he said.

Israel’s diplomat Walid Abu-Haya told the talks: “Bashar al-Assad is systematically murdering civilians. His forces are shelling their towns and villages and are raping and torturing people with impunity. He has no moral authority to govern.”

Additional reporting by Caroline Copley and Robert Evans; Editing by Maria Golovnina

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