UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has accused the Syrian regime of committing “almost certain” crimes against humanity as activists reported fresh violence and the arrest of several prominent dissidents.
It came as the UN General Assembly last night overwhelmingly voted for a resolution backing an Arab League plan that calls for Syrian president Bashar Assad to step down and strongly condemns human rights violations by his regime.
The 193-member world body voted 137-12 on the Arab-sponsored resolution, with 17 abstentions, and though there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and its resolutions are non-binding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues.
Russia and China, who recently vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council, voted against the General Assembly measure along with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and others who heeded Syria’s appeal against the measure.
But the high “Yes” vote was the strongest condemnation so far of Assad. The resolution called on the Syrian leader to hand power to his vice-president and immediately stop the bloody crackdown that has killed over 5,400 people.
“The UN General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria: the world is with you,” US Ambassador Susan Rice said in a statement. Assad “has never been more isolated. A rapid transition to democracy in Syria has garnered the resounding support of the international community. Change must now come”.
In Vienna, Mr Ban demanded the Syrian regime stops using indiscriminate force against civilians caught up in fighting between government troops and Assad’s opponents.
“We see neighbourhoods shelled indiscriminately,” Mr Ban told reporters. “Hospitals used as torture centres. Children as young as 10 years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity.”
Syrian activists said government forces attacked Daraa yesterday, carrying out arrests and shooting randomly in the city where the uprising against Assad erupted 11 months ago.
They also reported intense clashes between army defectors and government troops in the central province of Hama.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops “committed a new massacre” near the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour, killing 19 people – 11 of them from the same family. The report was impossible to confirm.
The push into Daraa, located near the Jordanian border some 80 miles south of the capital Damascus, followed sieges on the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama and appears to be part of an effort by the regime to extinguish major pockets of dissent.
Also yesterday, the Local Co-ordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists, reported the arrest of several activists, including Razan Ghazzawi, a US-born blogger and press freedom campaigner.
Ms Ghazzawi, who was born in Miami, Florida, was arrested early in the uprising and charged with spreading false information, but she was released after about two weeks.
The LCC said security forces also arrested leading human rights activist Mazen Darwish and others during a raid on their Damascus office. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.
China today defended its decision to vote against the General Assembly resolution.
Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China believes the violence in Syria must be stopped by negotiations and Beijing will not take sides between Assad’s regime and rebels fighting it.