GENEVA - The Commission of Inquiry on Syria calls the use of chemical weapons a war crime and says their alleged use is triggering a new urgency to bring an end to Syria’s 30-month-long civil war. The Commission has just submitted its latest findings of widespread violations in Syria to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The Commission of Inquiry says it hopes the U.S.-Russian agreement will result in Syria joining the Chemical Weapons Convention in mid-October, and will lead to a broader political resolution to the war.
In the meantime, commissioners say they are continuing to investigate 14 alleged chemical weapons attacks - four in March and April of this year - that may have occurred since the conflict broke out in March 2011. They acknowledge their investigations are limited because the government will not grant them access to the country.
The commission says it recognizes the seriousness of the August 21 chemical attack in a Damascus suburb, which the United States says killed more than 1,400 people. Commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro noted that the vast majority of casualties, though, are the result of the unlawful use of conventional weapons.
Pinheiro told the U.N. Human Rights Council some of the worst atrocities were committed by both government and rebel forces. He accused government forces of indiscriminate shelling and bombardment. He said extremist rebel groups use methods of warfare to spread terror among the civilian population.
Pinheiro said there is evidence the government continues to drop cluster munitions on civilian areas. He said a government fighter jet dropped an incendiary bomb on a school near Aleppo last month, killing eight students and wounding 50 others.
“Many are not expected to survive. There is no evidence of any opposition or rebel fighters or lawful targets near the school... children make up a large proportion of civilian casualties. They have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured. Children have been unlawfully detained in cells with adult detainees," he said. "The government should take steps to release children from detention or to transfer them to a juvenile justice system consistent with both fair trial and children’s rights.”
The commission accuses the government of deliberately attacking medical facilities and of denying treatment to the sick and wounded from opposition-controlled areas, but it says some opposition groups also have attacked medical personnel and hospitals.
Syrian Ambassador Faysal Khabbas Hamoui said the commission is exaggerating and relying on unverified reports. He said his government has sent more than 250 communications and documents to the commission, which it has ignored.
"It is deplorable for the commission to claim in its conclusions that the government is responsible for what it calls a number of massacres, and yet at the same time to say that the evidence and the circumstances around those massacres is not enough to determine the responsibility of the perpetrators," Hamoui said.
Pinheiro said the commission does not have the ability to refer the government of Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court. He said it is up to the U.N. Security Council to hold violators accountable for their actions.