JOHANNESBURG – Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for a United Nations resolution condemning violence in Syria against peaceful political protesters and calling for an end to such attacks by its government.
The international rights watchdog charged the U.N. Security Council has been slow to demand that Syria stop attacking civilians because of concerns Western governments used a similar resolution to justify a wide international bombing campaign on Libya.
Syrians should not be punished because of "what NATO is doing in Libya," said Philippe Bolopion, the Human Rights Watch U.N. expert. He called the violence in Syria even greater than the attacks that spurred the council to act on Libya.
He spoke in an interview in South Africa, a country he said was lobbying behind the scenes against a Syria U.N. resolution.
South Africa has criticized NATO airstrikes that reportedly killed relatives of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, saying a Security Council resolution did not mandate such attacks.
South Africa's foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela on Tuesday refused to discuss South Africa's stance on any Syria resolution.
"Let's not pre-empt the process," Monyela told AP. "When the matter comes before the United Nations Security Council, South Africa will make its contribution."
Bolopion said: "We believe South Africa should not bring the Libya baggage into the Syrian issue."
South Africa voted with the council in February when it imposed an arms embargo and urged U.N. member countries to freeze the assets of Gadhafi, four of his sons and a daughter. The council also backed a travel ban on the Gadhafi family and close associates, and called for a war crimes investigation.
South Africa supported a second resolution in March that authorized military action to protect civilians from attacks by Gadhafi's forces and imposed a no-fly zone over the country.
Bolopion of Human Rights Watch said Tuesday it was fair to question whether some U.N. members had gone too far in interpreting the U.N. resolutions on Libya. But he said that should not be part of the debate on Syria.
A prominent Syrian human rights group said Tuesday the death toll from Syria's crackdown on a nine-week uprising has risen to more than 1,000. President Bashar Assad's regime also is accused of besieging cities and detaining and torturing thousands.
"Being a civilian in Syria right now is a scary proposition," Bolopion said.
Bolopion was in South Africa to raise the Syrian question with South African officials, to talk more broadly about Pretoria's current role as one of the rotating members on the U.N. Security Council, and to discuss its aspirations for a permanent seat.
The five permanent council members — the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia — all wield veto power. The other 10 seats are filled by regional groups for two-year stretches, with five elected each year.
The U.N. has talked about expanding the council since 1979 to include emerging powers among the permanent seat holders.
Bolopion said South Africa could bolster its arguments for getting a permanent seat if it carved out a reputation as standing unequivocally for human rights.
"Their diplomacy will only be stronger," he said.