By RON DePASQUALEAssociated Press
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. high commissioner for human rights called Monday on the Security Council to strengthen the suspended U.N. observer mission in Syria and renewed her call for the country's conflict to be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The 300-member U.N. mission in Syria repeatedly came under fire before the U.N. suspended it last month, and its future is not clear. The council is awaiting a report from Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on options for the mission.
Navi Pillay said the mission's presence in Syria remains vital. "Ending the conflict is what we all seek, and any solution to the conflict must adequately address the root cause of the conflict, namely the human rights grievances," she said.
Both sides of the conflict have harmed civilians, she said.
The conflict has killed more than 14,000 people since the revolt began in March 2011, according to opposition estimates. The fighting has grown increasingly militarized in recent months, with rebel forces launching attacks and ambushes on regime targets.
Pillay spoke after briefing the council Monday in New York. The briefing followed an international conference held by international envoy Kofi Annan in Geneva on Saturday. The conference endorsed a U.N.-brokered peace plan that calls for the creation of a transitional government in Damascus, but at Russia's insistence it left the door open to President Bashar Assad being part of an interim administration.
Russia would likely block any attempt to refer Syria to the ICC. The court prosecutes accusations of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national authorities are unwilling or unable to do so.
Pillay said the flow of arms to both the Syrian government and the opposition risks escalating the conflict, which "must be avoided at all costs."
Pillay said anti-government forces are accused of using children as human shields. She said if the Syrian government grants her staff access, she is ready to send it to investigate the claim.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said Syria will remain too dangerous for U.N. observers until a political process gets under way.
"The mission itself can't stop the violence, so we need a political process, that was the reason why we had this meeting in Geneva," he said. "If by any chance there is a political process, the observers will be necessary and useful. If not, we will have to look at the options of closing or downgrading it."
Araud said France supports referring Syria to the ICC but said there is no agreement on the issue.
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