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UN: Both Sides in Syria Guilty of War Crimes

UN: Both Sides in Syria Guilty of War Crimes
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A United Nations’ report says both sides in the Syrian conflict are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. None of the perpetrators, the report concludes, fear any accountability for their crimes. Human rights campaigners say the report demonstrates the urgent need for diplomatic progress, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to discuss the crisis Thursday with his Russian counterpart in Geneva.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry report accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of massacring civilians, torture, bombing hospitals and the indiscriminate shelling of civilians - often with the suggestion of sectarian motives.

Opposition forces are also accused of crimes against humanity - in particular summary executions.

Syria Death Map - updated August 1, 2012
Syria Death Map - updated August 1, 2012
Cilina Nasser, from the human rights group Amnesty International, said, “Killing has become so easy in Syria and it’s extremely worrying to see the escalation in these killings. It’s really scary. And unfortunately you feel that it doesn’t seem that this is going to end anytime soon."

Nasser said the perpetrators must be held accountable. "The best way to do this is for Russia and China to stop blocking the U.N. resolution that calls for Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court. The International Criminal Court is the body that has the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute war criminals."

The 20-strong U.N. team that compiled the report carried out 258 interviews with refugees, defectors and others in the region. But they have never been allowed into Syria despite repeated requests. Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch, who spoke to VOA on the phone from Beirut, said getting around Syria is difficult and dangerous.

“They continue to deny them access into the country. Without access it makes it incredibly difficult to do strong documentation of human rights violations. Some opposition groups are taking journalists, humanitarian workers and other foreigners, they’re holding them to ransom,” said Fakih.

The U.N. inquiry report covers the period before the 21st of August, when Western governments say Assad’s forces killed more than a thousand civilians in a chemical attack outside Damascus. But the report does list other allegations of chemical weapons use before that date.

It will be presented to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.