Crimes on all sides and no military solution, say UN Syria experts

By staff writers
11 Sep 2013

United Nations experts have presented detailed evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity still being committed by both sides in Syria.

The detailed analysis of the 30-month-old conflict will be discussed in full at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday 16 September 2013.

Meanwhile, discussions are going on at the UN concerning proposals for the embattled Syrian government to have chemical weapons put under international control and neutralised.

France has proposed a 15-day period for this, with the Russians objecting and the USA looking on sceptically. The arguments are likely to be intense over the next few days.

On Monday 9 September the world body’s top rights official said little doubt remains that chemical weapons were used in Syria and she urged a political solution to the suffering that has reached unimaginable levels.

Addressing the opening of the 24th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navi Pillay said the international community “is late, very late to take serious joint action to halt the downward spiral that has gripped Syria” where more than 100,000 people have been killed, 4 million displaced within its borders and another 2 million in the region.

She noted that the use of chemical weapons has long been identified as one of the gravest crime that can be committed, “yet their use in Syria seems now to be in little doubt, even if all the circumstances and responsibilities remain to be clarified.”

“This appalling situation cries out for international action, yet a military response or the continued supply of arms risk igniting a regional conflagration, possibly resulting in many more deaths and even more widespread misery,” Ms. Pillay continued, adding that while there were “no easy exits, no obvious pathways out of this nightmare,” Member States, together with the UN, must find a way to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.

While the “world gazes in horror upon Syria,” Ms Pillay urged the Council to also consider the situations of other peoples around the world struggling to assert their right to live in dignity and security. In that respect, she expressed deep alarm at the resurgence in the indiscriminate sectarian violence which has led to more than 1,800 recorded deaths in the past two months alone.

The lengthy report from the four-person Commission of Inquiry, to be discussed in full next week, makes grim reading.

“Relentless shelling has killed thousands of civilians and displaced the populations of entire towns,” the Commission declares.

“Massacres and other unlawful killings are perpetrated with impunity. An untold number of men, children and women have disappeared. Many have died in detention.” The perpetrators on both sides “do not fear accountability. Referral to justice is imperative,” it adds.

The four Commisioners confirm and provide details of a series of massacres carried out by pro-government forces and note that they have unleashed indiscriminate bombardment by tanks, artillery and aircraft against areas they have been unwilling or unable to control.

Regime forces inflicted heavy civilian casualties “as a matter of policy,” on some occasions as retribution for the presence of armed groups, while on others with “a strong undercurrent of sectarianism,” says the report.

The number of people killed in government custody “rose markedly,” the Commission notes, drawing on 258 interviews to give details of widespread torture, particularly by military intelligence and other security agencies. Adult detainees “regularly reported the detention and torture of children as young as 13.”

The Commission says that “the involvement and active participation of government institutions indicated that torture was institutionalised and employed as a matter of policy.”

Opposition forces were also implicated in the mass killing of Shi'ite residents in the Hatla district of Deir al-Zour in June 2013. There are reported summary executions of captured government soldiers and rebel forces are said to have recruited children for combat. Rebel groups had also conducted torture, said the Commission, and although these do not appear to be systematic, partly because w whole range of groups is involved, “there were strong indications that such practices are on the rise.”

The expert Commission of Inquiry has called on the international community to halt arms transfers to Syria and to take “tangible steps to curb the increasing influence of extremists.”

The report insists that there is no possibility of a military solution to the Syrian conflagration.

Emphasising the warring parties’ current sense of impunity, the Commission urges the Human Rights Council “to commit to ensure the accountability of those responsible for violations, including possible referral to international justice.”

* More from Ekklesia on Syria: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria

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