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Middle East

War crimes a 'daily reality' of Syrian civil war, UN says

© afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-06-04

War crimes and crimes against humanity have become a "daily reality" in Syria's civil war, UN investigators say, noting that both sides of the conflict have been behind the massacre and torture of civilians, and may have used chemical weapons.

War crimes and crimes against humanity have become a daily occurrence in Syria's civil war, UN investigators said Tuesday, noting that both sides of the conflict have been behind the massacre and torture of civilians, and may have used chemical weapons.

"War crimes and crimes against humanity have become a daily reality in Syria," the Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in its report, delivered to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The report said investigators had "reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons".

The panel said they had heard testimony that Syrian government forces as well as rebel forces had used chemical weapons, but that most accounts related to their use by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The commission examined four such attacks in March and April but could not confirm which side was responsible.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator,” Paulo Pinheiro, who chairs the UN commission of inquiry, told a news conference in Geneva.

“The witnesses that we have interviewed include victims, refugees who fled some areas and medical staff,” Pinheiro said, declining to be more specific for reasons of confidentiality.

Assad’s government and rebel fighters have repeatedly accused each other of using banned chemical weapons.

The UN team of more than 20 investigators conducted 430 interviews from January 15 to May 15 among refugees in neighbouring countries and by Skype with people still inside Syria.

UN panel member Vitit Muntarbhorn said the team had cross-checked testimony about chemical weapons and viewed videos, including those on YouTube. Independent reporting remains difficult inside Syria, which has often banned foreigners and journalists from entering the country.

More investigation needed, UN says

But the panel admitted that its findings remained inconclusive and that it was vital a separate team of experts, to be named by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, be given full access to Syria to collect samples from victims and from the sites of alleged attacks.

In any case, atrocities committed with conventional weapons far outweighed any casualties from the use of chemical agents, Pinheiro said, noting the absence of a large-scale toxic attack.

“The conflict in Syria has reached new levels of brutality”, the 29-page report said. “War crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations continue apace.”

Syrian leaders must be held accountable for directing a policy that includes besieging and bombing cities and executing civilians, the investigators said.

“The documented violations are consistent and widespread, evidence of a concerted policy implemented by the leaders of Syria’s military and government,” they said, in their fifth report on a civil war that has killed more than 80,000.

Government forces and the allied militias fighting alongside them have committed murder, torture, rape and other inhumane acts since the conflict began in March 2011, the report said.

Qusair under siege

For the past two weeks, Syrian government forces have laid siege to the border town of Qusair, where agencies say hundreds of wounded and other civilians are trapped in dire conditions.

Syrian rebels and foreign militants have murdered civilians as well as captured soldiers, often after conducting “show trials” in an increasingly sectarian conflict, the report said.

“They continue to endanger the civilian population by positioning military objectives in civilian areas,” it added.

However, war crimes by rebels – including murder, torture and hostage-taking – did not reach the intensity and scale of those committed by government forces and affiliated militias.

The team called on the UN Security Council to ensure that those responsible for crimes face justice, including by possible referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court.

“Accountability will come, it will come in any case,” said Carla del Ponte, a former UN war crimes prosecutor and a member of the commission.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


Date created : 2013-06-04


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