UN: Syrian forces guilty of war crimes

SYRIAN GOVERNMENT forces and allied shabbiha militia have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder and torture in what appears to be state-directed policy, UN human rights investigators said yesterday.

Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad have also committed war crimes but these “did not reach the gravity, frequency and scale” of those carried out by the army and security forces, they said.

“The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that government forces and the shabbiha had committed the crimes against humanity of murder and of torture, war crimes and gross violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including unlawful killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, indiscriminate attack, pillaging and destruction of property,” said the 102-page report by the independent investigators led by Paulo Pinheiro.

Both government forces and armed insurgents had violated the rights of children during the 17-month-old conflict, the report said.

Karen AbuZayd, an American expert serving as senior investigator alongside Mr Pinheiro, said: “We have identified both parties as guilty of war crimes and of course a greater number and of bigger variety from the government side.

“What happened on the government side appears to be a policy of the state.

“It is not just widespread but similar large-scale complex operations, how they are carried out, the way the military and security work together,” she said.

Completing their inquiry into a massacre in Houla north of Homs in late May, the investigators said yesterday that government forces and shabbiha fighters were responsible for the killings of more than 100 civilians, nearly half of them children.

The investigators said they would update their confidential list of suspects or units responsible for violations and hand it over to UN rights boss Navi Pillay next month.

Prof Pinheiro is a Brazilian diplomat; Ms AbuZayd is a US citizen and former head of UNRWA, the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees.

A third panel member dropped out before the report was completed.

The report, whose findings are more conclusive about the Houla massacre than previous interim findings, could be used by world powers to justify tougher outside action against Syria, or strengthen calls for an international investigation and prosecution of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Human Rights Council could renew the mandate of the panel or it could appoint Mr Pinheiro to become a special investigator of Syria, a position that the council created in March but has left unfilled until now.

Earlier this year, the council said in a resolution that it agreed with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay, in her call for action by the International Criminal Court based at The Hague.

Activists say more than 20,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria’s revolt, inspired by other Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic regimes in the region. — (Reuters)