The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, warned Friday that urgent action was needed to protect civilians in Syria as civil war approaches.
Pillay told an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva:
"The Syrian authorities’ continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war.
"In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people."
She said she was particularly concerned about escalating violence between army defectors and security forces.
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At least 4,000 people and probably many more have been killed in the unrest, Pillay said. She is calling for the UN Security Council to refer those responsible to the International Criminal Court.
Syria's delegate at the meeting, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, angrily rejected the possibililty of foreign intervention, reported the New York Times:
"The Syrian problem is one that can be resolved only by Syrians. [...] It is only resolutions trying to put more oil on the fire."
Friday's session was called following a UN report on Syria earlier this week, which documented allegations of widespread murder and torture by state security forces.
Damascus says the report was biased and blames the violence on armed terrorist gangs.
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The Human Rights Council debated a draft resolution to establish a special investigator on Syria, the BBC said.
According to the Associated Press, African, European, Asian, Arab and American council members support the proposal, but Russia and China oppose it.
China and Russia last month vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have opened the door to UN sanctions against Syria if it failed to halt violence against protesters.