Syria violence reaches 'horrific dimensions': UN's Pillay

GENEVA (AFP) - United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay decried on Monday that the "horrific" level of rights violations in war-torn Syria, amid a flurry of diplomatic activity to organise a new summit in Geneva aimed at ending the conflict.

"A humanitarian, political and social disaster is already upon us, and what looms is truly a nightmare," Ms Pillay told diplomats as she opened one of the UN Human Rights Council's four annual sessions in Geneva.

She warned that the rights violations in Syria had "reached horrific dimensions," describing the situation in the country as "an intolerable affront to the human conscience."

"Confronted with the flagrant disregard of international law and human life on every side, I feel utter dismay," she said, lamenting that "we in the international community are failing to meet our fundamental obligations to the victims."

"It sometimes seems that we can do little more than cry out in the darkness and try to count the dead," she said of the 26-month crisis that has cost more than 94,000 lives and forced more than 1.5 million Syrians to flee to neighbouring countries.

Ms Pillay said the regime was using "indiscriminate and disproportionate force in residential areas," including reports of the direct targeting of schools and hospitals.

She also decried "wanton human rights violations" by rebel groups, including extrajudicial killings and accounts that some women and girls have been forced to marry combatants.

She also voiced alarm over the ongoing battle for control over the strategic town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, with reports that hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured and thousands may remain trapped.

Despite the seemingly hopeless situation, she insisted there was room for the international community to act, reiterating her call for the deadlocked UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"These war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot be allowed to go unpunished," she said.

Ms Pillay's comments came ahead of a top-level Paris meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia, France and the United States to push for an international peace conference.

EU foreign ministers were also gathering in Brussels on Monday to discuss whether to lift an arms embargo and arm the Syrian rebels.

Last Friday, the United States, Turkey and Qatar joined forces to request an urgent debate on the situation in Syria and especially in Qusayr before the human rights council.

The US ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ms Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, told the council Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime "has killed or injured untold numbers of civilians".

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