The UN-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria on Wednesday accused Syria of violating international human rights law [report, PDF] after finding that Syrian forces are engaging in torture and killings under orders from high level government officials. Military forces under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] have been shelling opposition strongholds in the city of Homs for 20 straight days and reportedly killed more than 80 people on Wednesday, including two journalists [NYT report]. The UN report, based on 369 interviews with victims, witnesses, defectors and other Syrian insiders, described some of the findings:
The commission received credible and consistent evidence identifying high- and mid-ranking members of the armed forces who ordered their subordinates to shoot at unarmed protestors, kill soldiers who refused to obey such orders, arrest persons without cause, mistreat detained persons and attack civilian neighbourhoods with indiscriminate tank and machine-gun fire. In some cases, they gave explicit orders to commit crimes, in others they used more general terms (e.g. use any force necessary) that, in the circumstances, left no room for interpretation. The commission verified that, in some locations, individual army officers ordered the indiscriminate shelling of civilian neighbourhoods in urban areas such as Hama, Al Ladhiqiyah, Dar'a and Homs.The commission of inquiry, headed by Paulo Pinheiro, found that rebel forces led by the Free Syrian Army had also committed abductions and killings, though lesser in scale. The report is a follow-up to a November report [JURIST report], which had similar findings. An assembly of Western and Arab powers plans to challenge al-Assad [news report, Reuters] on Friday to provide humanitarian access to civilians.
The growing unrest in Syria has drawn international attention. Last week, both UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called for an end to the violence in Syria, with Pillay asking the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria [JURIST reports] to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Pillay urged an investigation of Syrian government and military officials for possible crimes against humanity. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) [official website] claimed earlier in February that the past 11 months of violence in Syria have led to the deaths of hundreds of children [JURIST report]. In January, Ban demanded [JURIST report] that the Syrian government end violence against civilians. The OHCHR reports that more than 5,000 people have died since anti-government protests began last March.