U.N. Rights Chief Urges Faster Action to End Fighting in Syria

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GENEVA -- Navi Pillay, the top United Nations human rights official, called Friday for "much greater urgency" in efforts to end the conflict in Syria, saying massacres carried out in recent days should spur international action.

"The increasingly brutal nature of the conflict makes international efforts to halt the bloodshed imperative," Ms. Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement in Geneva. Efforts by the United States and Russia to convene an international conference on ending the two-year civil war announced this week are welcome, Ms. Pillay said, "but we need a much greater sense of urgency."

Ms. Pillay drew attention to images of piles of bodies, including infants and small children, that purport to show the killing of dozens of civilians by a pro-government militia in the village of Bayda and elsewhere in the Baniyas area this month. She said she believed that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed.

She also warned that a buildup of government forces and militia troops in the western Qusayr area near the border with Lebanon appeared to presage a government offensive and that residents were fleeing out of fear of further massacres. "We're worried too," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for Ms. Pillay. "These kind of killings have not been a one-off; they've been repeated very savagely."

Ms. Pillay's statement reflected concern that the tepid international response to reports of the Bayda massacre showed that outrage outside Syria was fading under the relentless barrage of horror stories from the country.

"There needs to be a careful investigation of each and every incident like this," Ms. Pillay said of the latest massacre reports. "We should not reach the point in this conflict where people become numb to the atrocious killing of civilians."

United Nations investigators are receiving consistent testimony that government forces are deliberately targeting hospitals, pharmacies, bakeries, schools and other sources of life-sustaining support, and that they are shelling and rocketing civilian areas regardless of whether they had a minimal or heavy rebel presence, she said.

"But the disgraceful disregard for the protection of civilians is not restricted to the government side," she added. "The scope of violations by antigovernment armed groups has also increased alarmingly."

Opposition attacks in Damascus, the Syrian capital, have killed and wounded dozens of civilians, she said, and abductions by the radical Nusra Front appear to be increasing. She expressed particular concern about reports that some rebel fighters are forcing women into marriage.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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