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UN Commission: Syrian Forces Committed 'Crimes Against Humanity'

  • Margaret Besheer

In this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA, supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad attend a rally at al-Sabaa Bahrat square in Damascus, Syria, November 28, 2011.

In this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA, supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad attend a rally at al-Sabaa Bahrat square in Damascus, Syria, November 28, 2011.

A United Nations commission investigating allegations of human rights violations in Syria says Syrian forces committed crimes against humanity during the government's ongoing crackdown on dissent. The commission called Monday for the government to put an immediate end to the violence, investigate rights violations and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The U.N. Human Rights Council established the fact-finding commission in August. The three-member panel, headed by Paulo Pinheiro, a Brazilian human rights expert, presented its first report Monday at a news conference in Geneva.

Pinheiro said the panel and its team of investigators gathered first-hand information from at least 223 victims and witnesses from the end of September through mid-November. He would not go into detail about how they gathered that information but said it amounted to a “solid body of evidence.”

He said the panel concluded that the army and security forces committed serious crimes under international law.

“The commission has concluded based on its findings that members of the Syrian army and security force have committed crimes against humanity in their repression of a largely civilian population in the context of a peaceful protest movement," said Pinheiro. "These crimes include murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty, which occurred in different locations including, but not limited, to Damascus, Daraa, Duma, Hama, Homs, Idlib, and along the borders with Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.”

He said the commission also concluded that these human rights violations could not have happened without the consent of the highest ranking state officials. He said under international law, the state is responsible for these violations and bears the duty to punish the perpetrators and compensate the victims.

Among its recommendations, the panel calls on Syrian authorities to put an immediate end to the violations of human rights; release those arbitrarily detained and provide access to international monitoring bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It also recommends that the U.N. panel of inquiry be allowed into Syria.

Among the report's other findings: more than 250 children have been killed by state forces; men and boys reported being victims of rape and sexual torture; schools have been used as detention facilities and sniper posts; and the sick and injured were denied medical assistance.

Pinhero said his commission received no cooperation from the Syrian government, which has not publicly commented on the findings. He called on the authorities to cooperate with the panel as it prepares a second report due in March. He said full access would also allow the commission to investigate Syrian claims that protestors have also participated in violent acts.

The panel’s report will go to the Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly. It will be up to those bodies to decide what to do next.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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