U.N. chief criticizes council inaction on Syria

U.N. chief criticizes council inaction on Syria
Newly-arrived Syrian refugee families rest among Olive trees in a field after they crossed the border from Tal Shehab city in Syria, through the Al Yarmouk River valley, into Thnebeh town, in Ramtha , Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo / Mohammad Hannon)
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday for failing to take action to protect Syrians facing violence that has led to thousands of deaths.

"In the eight ensuing months, we have seen the immense human cost of failing to protect," the secretary-general told a General Assembly meeting.

At a U.N. summit in 2005, world leaders agreed that governments have a collective responsibility to protect people from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The secretary-general demanded urgent action to protect Syrians now fleeing the country in record numbers before there are more killings.

"We cannot stand by while populations fall victim to these grave crimes and violations," he said.

In January, the death toll from the conflict - which began in March 2011 as a peaceful protest against President Bashar Assad's regime - was approaching 6,000. Activists now put the death toll at between 23,000 and 26,000.

The concept of the responsibility to protect arose from the World War II Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia in the late 1970s and the genocides in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995.

In the 18 months since the Syrian conflict erupted, Russia and China have strongly allied themselves with the Syrian government and have vetoed three Western-backed Security Council resolutions demanding that his forces end the violence and threatening sanctions if they didn't.

Ban told the General Assembly that "inaction cannot be an option for our community of nations."

Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, the current Security Council president, told a news conference Wednesday that the Security Council has not been united on crucial questions to deal with the Syrian crisis.

"But that doesn't mean that we simply cease to discuss this crisis," he said.