07312014Thu

U.N. committee condemns Syria, Iran for rampant rights abuses

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. General Assembly committee on Tuesday condemned Syria and Iran for widespread human rights abuses, but both Damascus and Tehran dismissed the separate votes as politically motivated.

The draft resolution on Syria, which was co-sponsored by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Britain, France and other Arab and Western states, received 132 votes in favor - 10 more than a similar resolution last year received - along with 12 against and 35 abstentions.

The resolution on Iran, which was drafted by Canada and co-sponsored by other Western countries, received 83 votes in favor, 31 against and 68 abstentions.

The increased number of yes votes for both resolutions shows waning support for Tehran and Damascus in New York, envoys said.

Both resolutions were passed by the 193-nation assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, and will be put to formal votes next month at plenary sessions of the General Assembly. They are both expected to pass with similar margins.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari dismissed the resolution against his country as an attempt by "Western states to interfere, and we condemn this."

He also accused Qatar, which has supported the rebels seeking to toppled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the 20-month-old insurgency, of aiding and abetting Israel against the Palestinians.

Ja'afari repeated Syria's oft-stated accusation that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya and Turkey have been arming and financially supporting the rebels, an allegation all have denied.

Western diplomats in New York, however, say privately that the Saudis and Qataris are almost certainly aiding the rebels, and possibly other countries as well.

Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee dismissed the resolution against Tehran as based on unconfirmed allegations and an attempt to meddle in the internal affairs of Iran.

The Syria resolution said the U.N. assembly "strongly condemns the continued widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities and the Government-controlled 'shabiha' militia."

It blamed the Syrian government and allied forces for "the use of heavy weapons, aerial bombardments and force against civilians, massacres, arbitrary executions, extrajudicial killings, the killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders and journalists, (and) arbitrary detention."

'CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY'

It also condemned "any human rights abuses by armed opposition groups," though the principal target of condemnation was clearly the government, not the rebels.

The resolution recalled U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay's repeated suggestion that "crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed" in Syria. It called for "accountability" for those guilty of human rights abuses.

The resolution on Iran voiced "deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran relating to, inter alia, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including flogging and amputations."

It also criticized the "continuing alarming high frequency of the carrying-out of the death penalty (in Iran) in the absence of internationally recognized safeguards, including an increase in the number of public executions."

The resolution also condemned the "increased persecution and human rights violations against persons belonging to unrecognized religious minorities, particularly members of the Baha'i faith and their defenders."

The U.N. special rapporteur for Iran said last month that members of the Baha'i community were the most persecuted Iranian religious minority.

Such resolutions on Iran, North Korea and Myanmar - and, since last year, Syria - have become an annual ritual.

The resolution on Iran received more yes votes than a year ago, when a similar text was approved with 80 in favor, 44 against and 57 abstentions.

Last year's Syria resolution received 122 votes in favor, 13 against and 41 abstentions.

Earlier on Tuesday the committee adopted a resolution that condemned human rights abuses in North Korea.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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