A top U.N. official deplored the “devastatingly remorseless toll of human lives” in Syria on Friday and exhorted the world community “to take immediate measures” to protect citizens.
“The onus is on all members of the international community to take protective action in a collective and decisive manner, before the continual ruthless repression and killings drive the country into a full-blown civil war,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who issued the statement describing a dire human rights situation in Syria.
Her remarks come as protesters took to the streets on Friday in different cities, a nationwide outpouring supporting the “free army,” a reference to personnel who have defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s military and the recently-formed Syrian Free Army. At least eight people have died in protests, one activist group said.
Pillay said the government has “manifestly failed to protect its population” and has “ignored the international community’s calls to cooperate with international investigations,” she said.
“At stake are the universal rights to life, liberty and security of person which must never be brushed aside in the interests of realpolitik. The international community must speak with one voice and act to protect the Syrian people.”
Protests in Syria erupted seven months ago, with demonstrators demanding changes to regime policies and/or an end to the regime. Opposition activists have accused officials of killing protesters, but the government has said it is going after armed groups.
The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, a London-based activist group with a network of informants across Syria, estimates that more than 3,100 people have died since the uprising began in mid-March. Most of them are civilians but some are military personnel as well.
Pillay also said the death toll has exceeded 3,000 people and at least 187 of them are children. She said more than 100 people have been reported killed in the last ten days.
The government “has consistently used excessive force to crush peaceful protests,” she said.
“Sniping from rooftops, and indiscriminate use of force against peaceful protesters — including the use of live ammunition and the shelling of residential neighborhoods — have become routine occurrences in many Syrian cities,” she said.
“In addition, thousands have been arrested, detained, forcibly disappeared and tortured. Family members inside and outside the country have been targeted for harassment, intimidation, threats and beatings. As more members of the military refuse to attack civilians and change sides, the crisis is already showing worrying signs of descending into an armed struggle.”
Two months ago, she said there had been “credible allegations of crimes against humanity in Syria” and urged the U.N. Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.
Countries across the globe have expressed outrage over the instability in Syria. The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions against the regime.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, six Gulf Arab states, urged an immediate meeting of Arab League states to discuss the country’s violence. The meeting should be at the foreign ministers level, the council said in a statement Thursday without providing details. Syria is a member of the Arab League.
Demonstrations occur regularly in Syria but activists mount nationwide demonstrations every Friday after Muslim prayers and those events regularly have labels, like the “Free Army Friday” theme.
The Syrian Observatory said seven civilians killed and more than 30 wounded in the city of Dael in Daraa province in the south amid sustained gunfire. A civilian was killed during clashes in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, it said.
Activists said security forces opened fire on protesters in the cities of Homs, in the west, and Damascus, the capital, and besieged worshipers at a mosque in Banias, in the west. More than 4,000 people chanted for the Free Syrian Army in Idlib province, in the northwest.
In the city of Douma, in the south, communication lines including cell phones were cut off after earlier demonstrations, the group said. In Hasaka, in the northeast protesters outside a mosque chanted “freedom.”
The Syrian Arab News Agency, the state-run outlet, reported “10 army and law enforcement officers” were killed after they were “ambushed by an armed terrorist group in the Idlib province town of Binnish on Thursday. This narrative directly contradicts that of the opposition, which claims defector soldiers and civilians were killed.
At least 15 people were killed Thursday, including two young children, the Syrian Observatory said. Twelve of those killed were in Binnish, which soldiers raided searching for dissidents and army defectors, activists said.
Among those SANA reported killed on Thursday in Binnish was Lt. Col. Abdul-Majeed al-Misri from Daraa.
But on Friday, Omar Idlibi, a Beirut-based spokesman for the opposition Local Coordination Committees told CNN Brig. Gen. al-Misri was in fact killed in the city of Hama, in the west.
Idlibi told CNN Syrian security forces opened on al-Misri’s car, killing him, after he defected from the military.
An opposition video shows people marching and denouncing Bashar and Hafez al Assad in al-Misri’s home village of Atman outside Daraa city. Hafez al-Assad is Bashar’s late father and one-time Syrian president
The man filming the video says at the beginning “this is Free ArmyFriday, after the burial of Abdul-Majeed al-Misri.” Thirty seconds into the video, a man holds up a martyr’s portrait purportedly of al-Misri.
The crowd is chanting “God damn you Hafez and Bashar.”
CNN cannot independently confirm events in Syria, which restricts international journalists from accessing many parts of the country.