[JURIST] A UN independent commission on Wednesday told the UN Human Rights Council [official website] that government forces in Syria "may have been responsible" for the deaths of more than 100 civilians, including women and children, in Al-Houla, Syria last month. In a report [text, PDF] presented to the 20th Session [materials] of the council in Geneva, the panel of experts said that many victims were shot at close range in their homes. The commission noted, however, that it was not allowed to enter the country to conduct its investigation, and witness interviews were conducted over the phone or Internet. It concluded that the government maintained superior position during the majority of the conflict and possessed superior weapons. The commission also expressed doubt as to the findings of the independent investigation ordered by the Syrian government, noting inconsistencies with its own findings. Ultimately, the commission said it was "unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time," saying it required access to the country in order to conduct a thorough investigation.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed last month that his government had nothing to do with the Houla massacre [JURIST report] and that "not even monsters" would carry out the attacks. Last month, UN human rights experts reported that both the Syrian government and anti-government groups were responsible for killings and other human rights abuses [JURIST report] in the conflict, even against children as young as 10 years old. Human rights advocates have continued to call on Syria to end violence against civilians. The UN Security Council in April approved implementation of a peace plan [JURIST report], which, in the wake of the Houla massacre, seems unlikely to succeed. In April, Human Rights Watch released a report [JURIST report] alleging that the Syrian government was responsible for killing more than 100 civilians. Also in April, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Syria [JURIST report] for attacks on civilians. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in February also demanded a cease-fire [JURIST report] during an emergency Human Rights Council session. Syria's UN ambassador walked out of the session following Pillay's speech, calling the session illegitimate.