The death toll in the nine-month anti-government uprising in Syria is now over 5,000. United Nations High Commissioner For Human Righs Navi Pillay reported the sharply higher figure on Monday, a week after the Arab League announced harsh economic sanctions against the authoritarian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Just at the start of December, the UN had cited the figure of 4,000 dead.
The last time that Pillay had briefed the UN security council in August, she had reported that the death tool was 2,000.
At least 300 children are among the dead and more than 14,000 have been detained and many tortured. While Pillay noted that opposition groups including army defectors in the Free Syrian Army have increased their attacks on Syrian security forces, she also expressed grave concern about the situation in the besieged city, a center of the protests that began in mid-March. Over 12,400 have also fled into neighboring countries since the uprising began, with many now living in refugee camps in Turkey.
While the US and a number of European countries have been urging that the UN take far stronger measures against Syria, China and Russia vetoed a security council resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria last month. India, South Africa, and Brazil also strongly opposed any formal resolution, saying that such could be “a first step to a Western campaign for regime change.”
Pillay also said that she recommended that the security council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. A report by Human Rights Watch has spelled out numerous charges of torture and inhumane treatment of Syrian citizens in detention. As Philippe Bolopion, UN director for Human Rights Watch, said,
“History will judge harshly those who still choose to look the other way. Inaction is not an option any more.”
General Strike and Municipal Elections
Syrians were to vote in municipal elections on Monday but many shuttered their businesses and kept their children home from school in observation of a general strike and as a “show of civil disobedience against the government.”
In the municipal elections, 14 million Syrians were to vote for 2,889 candidates vying for 17,588 seats. While the head of the elections committee, Khalaf al-Ezzawi, said that the voting was carried out “in a democratic spirit” with a “good” turnout, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at lead 15 people were killed in Homs and also in the northern province of Idlib. In the capital of Damascus and in Dara’a, many were said to observe the general strike. Activists mocked the elections on Facebook pages:
“The election farce organised by the authorities was a failure in the city of Deir Ezzor where we think the turnout was no more than one per cent. The roads were empty the whole day,” an activist said of the vote in the eastern city.
The Britain-based Observatory said authorities “forced dozens of people” in Idlib to vote despite raging violence in the northwestern province where forces killed three people in an early morning raid.
Opposition activists are hopeful that the strike will continue and spread, thereby adding to the economic pressure on a government that is already contending with international sanctions and increasing isolation. Troops supporting Assad are taking revenge on striking business owners with at least 178 stores in the southern city of Dara’a reportedly burned down for observing the strike.
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Photo taken at a protest in Manchester, UK, in May by Tim . Simpson