Burhan Ghalioun, right, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov before their joint news conference in Sofia, December 2 2011.
The United Nations Human Rights Council on December 2 strongly condemned the continued abuses by the Syrian authorities as part of its violent crackdown against protesters which has led to the deaths of more than 4000 people since March, including more than 300 children, the UN News Centre said.
The 47-member body also urged the Syrian government to meet its responsibility to protect its people, in a resolution adopted during a special session in Geneva to discuss the report of the independent international commission of inquiry into the crackdown that was released this week.
The text – which received 37 votes in favour to four against (China, Cuba, Ecuador and Russia), while six countries abstained – also established a mandate of a Special Rapporteur, or investigator, on the situation of human rights in Syria.
Earlier on December 2, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged immediate action by the international community to protect the people of Syria from the government’s "ruthless" repression.
"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."
In addition to the number of those killed, tens of thousands have been arrested since March, when a public uprising began across Syria, in line with similar movements across North Africa and the Middle East.
More than 14 000 are reported to be in detention as a result of the crackdown, at least 12 400 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and tens of thousands have been internally displaced, Pillay said.
Reports of increased armed attacks by the opposition forces, including the so-called Free Syrian Army, against the Syrian military and security apparatus are also of concern, she said.
The report by the three-member commission of inquiry concluded that Syrian security and military forces have committed crimes against humanity against civilians, including acts of killings, torture, rape and imprisonment.
The report – based on interviews with more than 200 victims and witnesses of human rights violations – documents widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
"The levels of excessive force used against civilians, the scale of the attacks, their repetitive nature and their coordination has led the commission to the conclusion that these crimes have apparently been committed pursuant to State policy," the commission’s chairperson, Paulo Pinheiro, told the Council.
He added that the unrest has directly affected the lives of as many as three million Syrians. Virtually all victims and witnesses had stated that one or more of their family members, neighbours or friends were killed, wounded, arrested or tortured since the protests started.
"The extreme suffering of the population inside and outside the country must be addressed as a matter of urgency," Pinheiro said. "Victims should expect nothing less from the United Nations and its member states."
Aside from its findings, the commission called on the Syrian Government to immediately end the ongoing rights violations, to initiate investigations of these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Pillay said that international and independent monitoring bodies, including her office (OHCHR) and the League of Arab States, must be allowed into the country, particularly to all places of detention, and all humanitarian workers must be guaranteed immediate and unhindered access to the country.
On December 2, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov, speaking after talks in Sofia with representatives of the Syrian National Council headed by Professor Burhan Ghalioun, said tht Bulgaria has repeatedly directed messages to the Syrian authorities that violence must be stopped immediately, that the guilty should be punished, and that reforms are inevitable, mandatory and must be started immediately.
"Unfortunately, all these messages have been to no avail - the violence continues, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating, and Syria refuses to comply with the recommendations of the League of Arab States, EU and UN," Mladenov said.
"Today there is only one way out of the situation in Syria – a categorical cessation of the violence, allowing the admission of international observers from the League of Arab States, ensuring humanitarian access to the population and the organising of free elections," he said.
Mladenov welcomed the leading role of the Arab League in seeking a peaceful way out.
He said that on the December 1, he had discussed with Nabil el-Araby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, how the EU can support their efforts.
Mladenov also welcomed "the efforts by our common neighbour Turkey to deal with the waves of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. Bulgaria is ready to support these efforts."
He said that the December 2 meeting marked the start of intensive dialogue between Bulgaria and the Syrian National Council, "which we see as an important partner in dialogue on the future of Syria".
The creation of the NSC was an important step towards the unification of the Syrian opposition, Mladenov said.
"For everyone in the EU today, it is important to see a common vision for the future of Syria, which guarantees the rights of religious and ethnic minorities - Alevi, Christians, Kurds, Druze, all who make up the diversity of Syria."
Mladenov said that the purpose of the December 2 talks was to discuss the situation in Syria and to exchange views "on how to find a political solution, a way out of this crisis and to avoid a civil war".
"We have reaffirmed our strong support for the League of Arab States initiative for a peaceful solution to the crisis, as well as their concern about the refusal of the government in Damascus to take the initiative, regardless of the arguments that it offers for its refusal.
"Bulgaria will continue to support more intensive dialogue with all Syrian opposition groups, to support the efforts of the League of Arab States, and to constantly send messages to Damascus about the urgent need for an end to violence and for the holding of free elections," Mladenov said.