UN Council Hosts Urgent Debate on Syria as Death Toll Climbs

The United Nations Human Rights Council held an urgent debate on the crisis in Syria Tuesday in Geneva calling for an immediate halt to the violence in the country that has claimed more than 7,500 lives.

"My office has received disturbing reports of a rapidly deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation," Navil Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at the meeting attended by 70 member states, observer states, and non-governmental organizations.

Pillay called upon the Syrian government to allow access to humanitarian groups and to release political prisoners and individuals who are facing arbitrary detention.

"What is urgently needed today is for the killings to stop," Pillay said. "Those committing atrocities in Syria have to understand that the international community will not stand by and watch this carnage and that their decisions and actions they take today ultimately will not go unpunished."

At the meeting, Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Fayssal al-Hamwi denounced the legitimacy of the debate calling it a "sterile discussion" and arguing that the aim of the emergency meeting was to "fuel the flames of terrorism and prolong the crisis" in his country.

"We are convinced that the real aim behind holding this session today is to cover up for the violence and murder perpetrated by the armed groups against innocent civilians," the ambassador said.

U.S. representative to the Human Rights Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, told reporters that the Syrian ambassador's comments were "out of touch with reality" and a reflection of President Bashar al-Assad's "delusional" regime.

The meeting came as U.N. political affairs officer Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council that the number people killed since the Syrian uprising began is "well over 7,500 people."

"There are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children," Pascoe said.

The debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council over Syria is set to continue later in the week as the rights body will be voting on a resolution that would condemn the country for committing "widespread and systematic violations of human rights."

The Syrian ambassador has deemed the resolution "prejudiced" and "malicious."

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