International pressure piles up on Assad as massacres continue across Syria

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A Syrian child stamps pictures of the ruling Baathist regime in Syria including President Bashar al-Assad (centre) during a protest. Syrian troops continued their crackdowns that led to the death of dozens of civilians across the Arab country. Photo - Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

By Gisela Perez-Mauri

The United States and the European Union have called on the Syrian President to resign, after days of widespread condemnation by the UN Security Council and several Arab countries for the severe repression against civilians which is in its fifth month.

US President Barack Obama recalled the different times that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had announced political reforms without proven results and asked him, for the first time, to step out of the way of the Syrian people.

?We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,? President Obama said in a written statement released on Thursday.

The US President also announced ?unprecedented sanctions to deepen the financial isolation of the Assad regime and further disrupt its ability to finance a campaign of violence against the Syrian people.? The sanctions will include the freeze of all assets of the Government of Syria subject to US jurisdiction, suspension of Syrian-origin oil imports, and investment and operations in the Arab country, as well as a ban on transactions involving Syrian authorities.

EU members, led by the United Kingdom, France and Germany, also asked the Syrian leader to step aside ?in the best interest of Syria and the unity of its people.” European Union Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, pointed “the complete loss of Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people? after months of perpetuating what EU members qualified as ?brutal military force? against his people.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva, issued a report covering events in Syria from Mid-March to mid-July. The text says that the ongoing ?widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population? by government controlled security forces follow a ?pattern of human rights violations which may amount to crimes against humanity.? The violations include murder, enforced disappearances, torture, deprivation of liberty, and persecution.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, said that ?witnesses on the ground said that the scale of military and security operations has escalated in the past two weeks,? after the UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the ?widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians.?

The UN report says that the reference to 1900 people killed is ?correct,? however it states that this figure also includes members of the security forces, as well as victims of armed groups. The text states that the demonstrations were ?mostly peaceful? and were carried out by ?civilians of all ages.?

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, added that perpetrators ?have to be brought to justice?, and recommended a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

UN officials said recently that at least 2,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since the crackdown on protests started in mid-March. A UN mission will travel to Syria on Saturday to assess the situation in the Arab country.

UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said that the mission has been granted ?full access? and wants to approach the areas of reported unrest. Amos said that the UN team is expected to be accompanied by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), a humanitarian organization.

After closed Security Council consultations, UK?s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Philip Parham, called on the Syrian authorities to end violence, stop the killings, release those detained, allow humanitarian access to the country and collaborate with the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. This is the only way that a ?genuine process of political reform? can take place, Parham said. The British Representative said that Security Council members believe that ?the time has come for the council to take further actions to step up the pressure against those who are responsible for the violence against the citizens of Syria.”

Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja?afari, called the Western actions against the Arab country ?illegitimate strategies? and accused some Security Council members of ?attacking the sovereignty of some member states?, after referring to the recent deployment of NATO troops in Libya and the 2003 Iraq ?invasion? which was led by the US and UK.

Ja?afari accused the US of launching a ?humanitarian and diplomatic war? against Syria. He recalled that President Assad had issued 20 political and jurisdictional reforms since March, such as the abolishment of the emergency law and the security state tribunal.

Like President Assad, the Syrian Ambassador said that the military and police operations had stopped in the Middle East country. However, reports coming from the ground say that violence against demonstrators continues unabated.

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