The High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay offered some of the toughest words yet from the UN system about the crackdown against a protest movement in Syria.

She also expressed particular concern about reports of civilians fleeing the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour in the wake of recent threatening statements by Government officials.

“We are receiving an increasing number of alarming reports pointing to the Syrian Government’s continuing efforts to ruthlessly crush civilian protests,” Pillay said. “It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers,” she added. “I urge the Government to halt this assault on its own people’s most fundamental human rights.”

“NGOs and others are now reporting that the number of men, women and children killed since the protests began in March has exceeded 1,100, with up to 10,000 or more detained,” Pillay said. She noted that local human rights organizations had estimated that more than 50 protesters were killed during a huge protest in the city of Hama last Friday in what is believed to be one of the bloodiest days since the protests and killings began.

Saying that “bare statistics do not reveal the full extent of individual crimes and suffering,” Pillay referred to the case of Hamza al-Khatib, the 13-year-old boy, who was allegedly abducted and tortured to death by local security forces.

“The unimaginably cruel murder and mutilation of this child seems to be emblematic of the moral and legal bankruptcy of the apparent policy of crushing dissent by all available means,” the High Commissioner said.

Ban Ki Moon, meanwhile, has also stepped up the rhetoric. After visiting a memorial to the so-called “dirty war” in Argentina, Ban had this to say:

“the situation is very worrisome. This struggle has spread beyond any single square, any village or town. It has spread all throughout the country. The Government has responded with horrific attacks…

“I once again urge President [Bashar Al-] Assad of Syria to allow humanitarian access to affected areas and to allow the Human Rights Council-mandated assessment mission.”

Of course, strong rhetoric is about the only tool at the disposal of the UN system right now because the Security Council has so far failed to take any action whatsoever on the Syria situation. Russia and China still consider this to be an internal matter, but I can’t help but think that, if nothing else, the steady flow of refugees into Turkey certainly  makes this a matter of international peace and security.  I do wonder how long China and Russia can hold out.

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