BEIRUT, Lebanon — The United Nations' top human rights official assailed the Syrian government Friday for a campaign of "ruthless repression and killings" and called for the international community to take steps to prevent the Middle Eastern nation from plunging into civil war.
A statement issued in Geneva by Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, essentially backed claims by antigovernment activists who say Syrian authorities have routinely attacked protesters without provocation. In contrast, the administration of President Bashar Assad has blamed the violence on terrorists armed from abroad seeking to overthrow the government.
The comments by Pillay, a South African judge, appeared to be the toughest to date from the United Nations, where a resolution condemning Syria's response to more than six months of protests failed to pass the Security Council this month.
The Assad government faces a hardening of attitudes against it on many fronts. European countries and the United States have imposed economic sanctions. Turkey, Syria's longtime ally, has harshly criticized Assad's handling of the unrest and is also planning to impose economic penalties against its neighbor.
The death toll in Syria since antigovernment protests erupted in March exceeds 3,000, including at least 187 children, Pillay said. More than 100 people have died in the past 10 days, he said.
Antigovernment activists said at least 12 people were killed Friday in attacks by security forces at various sites in Syria. There was no immediate response from the government.