By Merle David Kellerhals Jr. | Staff Writer
Washington — A United Nations report says the Syrian regime has committed “widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations.”
The report, prepared by a three-member panel of investigators, was made public in Geneva on February 23 and will be discussed during the 19th Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council which opens next week.
“A reliable body of evidence exists that, consistent with other verified circumstances, provides reasonable grounds to believe that particular individuals, including commanding officers and officials at the highest levels of government, bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations,” the published report said.
“The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic has deteriorated significantly since November 2011, causing further suffering to the Syrian people,” the report said. “Widespread violence and increasingly aggravated socio-economic conditions have left many communities in a perilous state.” For many if not most Syrians, meeting basic needs to sustain everyday life has become increasingly difficult.
The report is based on 369 interviews with victims, witnesses, defectors and others who have “inside knowledge” of the crisis in Syria. The investigators also examined photographs, video recordings, available government documents and satellite imagery of areas where military and security forces were deployed and related violations occurred. This evidence was used to corroborate a number of witness accounts, the U.N. report said.
The investigators also took into account a report from the observer mission of the Arab League from January 22, including interviews with former observers from that mission.
“The present situation risks further radicalizing the population, deepening inter-communal tensions and eroding the fabric of society,” the report said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters February 23 that the overwhelming number of victims of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutality are innocent, unarmed Syrian civilians.
“The victims here are overwhelmingly Syrians and the assault that Assad continues to wage against the Syrian people is heinous and unforgivable,” Carney said. “That’s why we’re working with a broad array and a growing array of international partners to isolate and pressure Assad to bring about a peaceful transition in that country, a transition which is inevitable and which is already under way.”
Carney said that the United States, led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, will be an active participant in the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis. Representatives from more than 70 nations are meeting to find ways to support Syria’s opposition forces, and to find ways to provide humanitarian assistance, especially urgently needed medical supplies in places such as Homs, which has been under attack by government forces for 20 consecutive days.
The U.N. investigators said they received credible and consistent evidence identifying high- and mid-ranking members of the armed forces who ordered their subordinates to shoot at unarmed protesters, kill soldiers who refused to obey such orders, arrest people without cause, mistreat detained persons and attack civilian neighborhoods using machine guns and armored tanks.
“The government has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect its people,” the investigators said.
An effort to obtain a U.N. Security Council resolution to promote an Arab League peace plan failed when two permanent Security Council members — Russia and China — vetoed the measure. The Arab League plan called for a transition where Assad would relinquish power to his vice president and permit the creation of a unity government. The Damascus regime rejected that plan.
The 22-member Arab League suspended its observer mission in Syria, saying that it was unsafe to continue operations because of the “grave deterioration of the situation in Syria, and the continuation of violence and exchange of shelling and shooting.”
The United Nations estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in the fighting between rebel forces and the Syrian government security forces as of January. Newer information is unavailable because the information cannot be independently confirmed.