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UN Official Calls for End to Syria Stalemate

FILE - Independent investigator on war crimes in Syria Paulo Pinheiro addresses U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, March 17, 2015.

The head of the U.N.'s Commission of Inquiry on Syria said Thursday that Syria is at "a bitter and murderous stalemate," as countries with the ability to push toward a political solution to the country's four-year war fuel the fighting rather than work for peace.

In an opinion article in The Guardian, Paulo Pinheiro highlights the human toll of a conflict that has sent 4 million refugees fleeing the country, pushed another 7.6 million from their homes within Syria and seen schools and hospitals destroyed by a wide array of competing fighters.

The conflict that began as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad's government in March 2011 evolved into a civil war with rebels, government forces and Islamic State militants all battling for territory. More than 220,000 people have died.

"This is a suffering that knows no gender, ethnicity or religion," Pinheiro said. "All Syrians are the victims of this all-consuming and bloody war, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shia, Kurdish or Palestinian, Christian or Druze, or from the myriad other Syrian communities."

The U.N. brokered two rounds of peace talks last year in Geneva, but the meetings failed to achieve any real progress in bringing the long-sought political plan to end the violence.

Pinheiro said the world's response is now "expressions of compassion" that do nothing to achieve the goal of peace. He reiterated calls for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court and for governments with influence among the various parties in Syria to take the necessary steps to push for negotiations.

"The absence of decisive action by the community of states, as a whole, has nourished a now deeply entrenched culture of impunity," Pinheiro said.

He called attention to the spreading global toll the conflict has taken, with Syrians fleeing to Europe and militant groups drawing in fighters from outside.

His statement came as the U.N.'s refugee agency released a report citing Syria as the world's biggest source of refugees in a year in which the number of displaced people around the globe hit an all-time high.