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UN rights boss warns of 'house of blood' in Iraq, Syria

Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein has called on the international community to end the conflict in the two countries.

New High Commissioner of the United Nations (UN) for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein of Jordan, delivers his speech at the opening of the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 8 September, 2014 in Geneva. Picture: AFP.

GENEVA - The new UN human rights chief urged world powers on Monday to protect women and minorities targeted by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, saying the fighters were trying to create a "house of blood".

Jordan's Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, the first Muslim to hold the position, called for the international community to focus on ending the "increasingly conjoined" conflict in the two countries, and abuses in other hotspots from Ukraine to Gaza.

Islamic State's Sunni Muslim fighters have over-run large parts of Syria and Iraq since June, declaring a cross-border caliphate. The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council last week agreed to send a team to investigate killings and other abuses carried out by the group on "an unimaginable scale".

Zeid, Jordan's former UN ambassador and a Jordanian prince, described Islamic State in his maiden speech to the Council as "takfiris" - hardline Sunni militants who justify killing others by branding them apostates.

"Do they believe they are acting courageously? Barbarically slaughtering captives? ... They reveal only what a Takfiri state would look like, should this movement actually try to govern in the future," said Zeid who succeeds Navi Pillay in the Geneva hotseat.

"It would be a harsh, mean-spirited, house of blood, where no shade would be offered, nor shelter given, to any non-Takfiri in their midst," Zeid added.

He called on Iraq's new government and prime minister to consider joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure accountability for crimes committed there.

"In particular, dedicated efforts are urgently needed to protect religious and ethnic groups, children - who are at risk of forcible recruitment and sexual violence - and women, who have been the targets of severe restrictions," Zeid said.

The ambassadors of Iraq and Syria, in separate speeches, called for combating "terrorist groups" in their homelands and for halting the flow of weapons and funds to Islamist militants.

"Terrorists must not be armed, the source of financing must be stopped. Infiltration of terrorists from abroad must be stopped," said Syria's new envoy Hussam Edin Aala.

"ONLY ANNIHILATION"

The Council has an independent investigation into war crimes by all sides in Syria, where more than 190,000 documented killings have occurred during the conflict that began in March 2011, according to a report by Pillay last month.

"In the takfiri mind, as we have seen in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Kenya, Somalia, Mali, Libya, Syria and Iraq ... there is no love of neighbour - only annihilation to those Muslims, Christians, Jews and others, altogether the rest of humanity, who believe differently to them," Zeid said.

Zeid called for an end to Israel's seven-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and said Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank deserved to lead a normal life free of illegal settlements and what he called excessive use of force.

"On this point, I also note that Israelis have a right to live free and secure from indiscriminate rocket fire," he said, referring to rockets fired by militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Israel's deputy ambassador Omer Caspi chastised the Council for not naming Hamas as "the perpetrator of war crimes" in a resolution that set up an inquiry last month on the latest war.

"One cannot allow the institutionalised bias against Israel to override the international community's position against terrorism. One cannot allow one country to protect itself against terror and condemn another for doing just that. It is called double standards and it should end," Caspi said.

On Ukraine, Zeid said "at least 3,000 people" have been killed since fighting began in April and called on the Kiev government, armed groups and neighbouring states including Russia to protect civilians and ensure compliance with international law.

Italy's envoy Maurizio Enrico Serra, speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU), condemned what it called "the aggression by Russian armed forces on Ukrainian soil in clear contravention of international law".

Russia denies accusations by Kiev and the West that it has sent troops into eastern Ukraine to prop up a revolt by pro-Russian separatist rebels.

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