Navi Pillay
Navi PillayOfficial Photo

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told the Security Council on Monday that the death toll in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's nine month crackdown on anti-regime protesters has surpassed 5,000.

The figure represents a sharp increase over the 4 000 that she cited just 10 days ago.

“Today I have reported that the figure exceeds 5 000,” Pillay told reporters after her briefing, adding she regarded the situation in Syria as "intolerable.”.

The figure included civilians, defecting soldiers and those executed for refusing to shoot civilians, but did not include members of the military and other security forces killed by opposition forces.

According to Pillay, more than 14,000 dissidents are being detained by the Assad regime, while at least 12,400 had sought refuge in neighboring countries, and tens of thousands had been displaced.

“Independent, credible and corroborated accounts demonstrate that these abuses have taken place as part of a widespread and systematic attack on civilians,” Pillay said.

She also repeated her assertion that the actions of Assad's government could constitute crimes against humanity and reissued her call for the Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Western envoys expressed shock at Pillay's report after the briefing, but noted the world body was unable to act due to continued opposition by veto-wielding China and Russia in the Security Council.

“It was the most horrifying briefing that we’ve had… over the past two years,” British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters.

Assad has resisted intense international criticism and pressure, including broad economic and diplomatic sanctions from the West and Arab League, in his bid to perpetuate his family's now 41-year Alawite rule in Damascus.