GENEVA - A United Nations commission of inquiry on Syria said on Monday Syrian military and security forces had committed crimes against humanity including murder, torture and rape and the government of President Bashar Assad bore responsibility.
The panel, which interviewed 223 victims and witnesses including defectors, called on Syria to halt the "gross human rights violations", release prisoners rounded up in mass arrests and allow media, aid workers and rights monitors access to the country.
Syria's foreign minister lambastes Arab sanctions
EU agrees on new financial sanctions on Syria
Syria is "responsible for wrongful acts, including crimes against humanity, committed by members of its military and security forces as documented in the present report," the three-member panel said in a 39-page report to the UN Human Rights Council.
It catalogs executions, torture, rapes including of children, arbitrary
detentions and abductions carried out since March by Syrian forces
quashing pro-democracy demonstrations while enjoying "systemic impunity"
for their crimes, it said.
"The commission therefore believes that orders to shoot and otherwise
mistreat civilians originated from policies and directives issued at the
highest levels of the armed forces and the government," said the team,
led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro.
More than 3,500 people have been killed in the violence, according to
the United Nations, while activists say that up to 30,000 have been
arrested, many kept in open-air stadiums.
The UN Security Council stopped short of taking action against Syria
when China and Russia vetoed a resolution in October. After continuing
international criticism of Assad's handling of the crisis, the Arab
League approved sanctions against Syria on Sunday.
On Monday, tens of thousands of Syrians protested in state-backed
rallies against the sanctions, the toughest imposed by the Arab League
against one of its own members.