Geneva: Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and pro-government shabiha fighters were behind the massacre of more than 100 civilians in the village of Houla in May, an UN expert panel concluded on Wednesday.
“The murders, unlawful killing, torture, sexual violence and indiscriminate attacks indicate the involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the government”, the panel appointed by the UN’s 47-nation Human Rights Council said.
In its final report submitted to the Geneva-based council, for the first time the panel has used the term “war crimes” to describe its findings.
That is because the International Committee of the Red Cross, which oversees the Geneva Conventions known as the rules of war, only said in mid-July that it now considers the conflict in Syria to be a full-blown civil war, meaning international humanitarian law applies throughout the country.
The panel also concluded that that anti-government armed groups committed war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial killings and torture, but at a lesser frequency and scale.
The Geneva-based ICRC’s assessment was an important reference for the panel and for all others trying to determine how much and what type of force can be used.
The panel’s 102-page report was issued just hours after a bomb exploded in the Syrian capital of Damascus outside a hotel where UN observers are staying.
The bomb was attached to a fuel truck and wounded at least three people, Syrian state TV reported. Activists also reported fighting near the government headquarters and the Iranian embassy, both in Damascus, along with clashes in different parts of Syria.
The panel was appointed to probe abuses in Syria but had hardly any access to the country, with only its chairman, Brazilian diplomat and professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, allowed into Damascus for a weekend visit last month to meet with some top government officials and families affected by the violence.