U.N. rights experts report violations since Syria truce

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 16, 2012 11:28 AM

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights investigators said on Monday they had received reports of shelling and arrests by Syrian forces since the ceasefire, as well as executions of some soldiers captured by rebels, although the level of violence generally was lower.

The team led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro said it hoped the truce brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan last week would hold and help put an end to gross human rights violations that it has documented over the past six months.

In a statement, it also voiced concern at what it called the "deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Syria where tens of thousands of civilians fled escalating fighting in the run-up to the fragile ceasefire that took effect last week.

It acknowledged generally lower levels of violence in some areas, but was seriously concerned over accounts of a number of incidents since the truce.

These included "the shelling of the Khaldieh neighborhood and other districts in Homs by government forces and the use of heavy weaponry, such as machineguns in other areas, including Idlib and some suburbs of Damascus.

"The commission is also concerned by reports of new arrests, especially in Hama and Aleppo," it said.

The team, which reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, has not been allowed into Syria, but has interviewed refugees and gathered testimony in neighboring countries.

"The Commission also continued to receive reports of human rights abuses committed by anti-government armed groups engaged in fighting against the Syrian army during and after the ceasefire, including extra-judicial killings of soldiers captured during armed confrontations," it said.

A handful of soldiers in blue caps put a tentative United Nations presence at the heart of the Syrian crisis on Monday, predicting success for their mission to stabilize a shaky four-day-old ceasefire even as shells continued to fall.

In their last report issued on February 23, the U.N. investigators said that they had evidence that Syrian forces had committed crimes against humanity including murder, abductions and torture under orders from the "highest level" of army and government officials.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Michael Roddy)