UN panel emphasizes Assad role in Syria war crimes

AP News
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Posted: Sep 16, 2014 10:50 AM
UN panel emphasizes Assad role in Syria war crimes

GENEVA (AP) — As nations mount an offensive against the Islamic State militants that have gained a stronghold in Iraq and Syria, a U.N. human rights commission emphasized Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad's government has committed the bulk of atrocities in the civil war.

The head of the commission, Brazilian diplomat and scholar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told the U.N.'s top human rights body that the government's killing of civilians — often through the use of ubiquitous checkpoints — exceeds the crimes against civilians perpetrated by the militants and other anti-government armed groups.

The Islamic State extremists and anti-government armed groups are not "the sole agents of death and destruction inside Syria," Pinheiro told the 47-nation Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Council authorized the commission to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in Syria and to identify whenever possible those responsible, so that they can be prosecuted.

"The Syrian government remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, killing and maiming scores of civilians daily — both from a distance using shelling and aerial bombardment and up close, at its checkpoints and in its interrogation rooms," Pinheiro said. "Checkpoints are often the starting point of a horrific journey of disappearance, torture, sexual abuse and, for many, death."

He expressed the commission's deep frustration that the international community has not found a political solution to end Syria's civil war, which has killed over 190,000 people.

Earlier this month, the Council overwhelmingly approved the Iraqi government's request for a U.N. panel to investigate alleged crimes against civilians in Iraq committed by the Islamic State group. That work eventually could be combined with the work of the Syria commission, said one of its four members, Carla del Ponte.

Syria envoy Houssam El dine Alaa denounced the commission's work as "politicized and unprofessional," based on "unbelievable testimonies."

Commission member Vitit Muntarbhorn told reporters it's pointless to compare the civilian killings by Islamic militants with those by the Assad government.

"They're all bad. It's not Olympic Games in terms of who's committing more crimes," said Muntarbhorn.