A panel of experts representing the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday denounced [press release] the arrest of 16 people by Syrian forces last Thursday, calling for their release. On Thursday afternoon, Syrian forces raided the offices of a human rights organization in Syria, arrested 16 people there, blindfolded them and took them to an airport. The UN panel, which included the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, freedom of expression, torture and arbitrary detention, called for the immediate release of all the arrested persons: "The Syrian authorities should end all acts of harassment against human rights defenders and release all those arbitrarily arrested and detained." Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on torture, feared that the arrested persons were at risk of ill treatment at the hands of Syrian forces: "I am deeply concerned about [the sixteen arrestees'] physical and mental well-being particularly in the current context of the ongoing violence in Syria." The raid and arrest occurred on the same day that the UN General Assembly [official website] passed a resolution [JURIST report] condemning the violence in Syria.
The growing unrest in Syria has drawn copious international attention recently. Last week, both UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [JURIST reports] called for an end to the violence in Syria, with Pillay asking the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Pillay urged an investigation of Syrian government and military officials for possible crimes against humanity. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) claimed earlier in February that the past 11 months of violence in Syria have led to the deaths of hundreds of children [JURIST report]. In January, Ban demanded [JURIST report] that the Syrian government end violence against civilians. The OHCHR reports that more than 5,000 people have died since anti-government protests began last March.