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U.N. panel finds conflict in Syria 'increasingly sectarian'

February 18, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Carla del Ponte of Switzerland, a member of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, discusses findings from the latest report on Syria during a press conference Monday at the European headquarters of the U.N. in Geneva.
Carla del Ponte of Switzerland, a member of the United Nations Commission… (Associated Press / Keystone,…)

BEIRUT—The situation in war-ravaged Syria “is deteriorating rapidly” and both sides have committed crimes against humanity  in an “increasingly sectarian” conflict that threatens peace throughout the Middle East, a United Nations-commissioned inquiry said Monday.

“The destructive dynamics of the civil war not only have an impact on the civilian population but are also tearing apart the country’s complex social fabric, jeopardizing future generations and undermining peace and security in the entire region,” the report said.

Both sides were accused of committing massacres of civilians and of combatants, said the report, which covers a six-month period up to mid-January.

Among the government abuses enumerated were murder, torture, rape, “enforced disappearances” and a “disturbing pattern” of aerial bombardments targeting hospitals, bakeries and bread lines.

Opposition forces were accused of murder, torture and hostage taking, among other crimes, and of setting off car bombs and other explosives targeting non-military targets.

Though both sides committed atrocities, the report said that the scale of abuses by government forces dwarfed those attributed to the opposition.

The report is the latest in a series by the U.N.-commissioned panel, headed by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian lawyer, under a mandate to investigate all violations of human rights law in the Syrian conflict. The investigators urged both sides to embrace a political settlement to end the violence.

Investigators said they conducted 445 interviews of refugees, defectors and others, but were denied access to Syria.

Next month, the panel plans to present the U.N. high commissioner of human rights with a confidential list of individuals and units believed responsible for crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations. The report, stressing the need to counter “a growing culture of impunity,” recommended that the allegations be submitted for potential prosecution, possibly to the International Criminal Court.

However, such prosecutions must be initiated by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have previously blocked action against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Up to 70,000 people have died in the almost two-year Syrian conflict, according to U.N. estimates. More than 1 million Syrians are believed to have fled the country and an additional 2.5 million have been forced from their homes inside the country.

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