The "highest levels" of the Syrian regime are responsible for "widespread and systematic" human rights violations in Syria, a special United Nations-backed panel reported Thursday. It's the first sign that members of the Bashar al-Assad regime might eventually be held accountable for war crimes.
"The widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Syria could not have happened without the consent of the highest ranking State officials," Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the UN-backed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said at a Geneva press conference Thursday. "The State of Syria is responsible for these violations and bears the duty to ensure that the perpetrators are punished and that the victims receive reparations."
The UN Human Rights Council established the independent Syria commission in August, charging it with the mandate "to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Syria since March 2011 ...[and] to identify those responsible," a UN summary of the panel's press conference Thursday said.
As part of its fact-finding, the commission interviewed some 223 witnesses and victims of the Assad regime's brutal crackdown. Over 6,000 people are reported to have been killed since pro-democracy protests erupted in Syria last March. The most intense violence has recently taken place in the Syrian city of Homs, where Syrian security forces are accused of indiscriminate shelling, having killed journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik on Wednesday.
"We have identified patterns of human rights violations by Syria's army and security forces," Pinheiro, a Brazilian national, said, adding that Syrian security forces had used excessive force, arbitrary shelling, murder, torture, and rape to try to suppress protests in cities around the country of some 22 million people.
Russia and China have blocked a UN Security Council resolution that could have formally referred the Syrian violence to the International Criminal Court for a war crimes investigation.
The panel's findings come as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to join her counterparts from some 70 nations at a meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group in Tunisia Friday to coordinate next steps in responding to the crisis.
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