A UN-appointed commission has found that Syria's military and security forces committed crimes against humanity in their crackdown on protesters. Damascus rejects all accusations of arbitrary violence against protesters.
Few images of the violence against protesters exist
A United Nations commission of inquiry on Syria said in Geneva on Monday that Syrian forces operating under the command of President Bashar al-Assad had committed crimes against humanity in their crackdown against anti-regime protests, including murder, torture and rape.
"The commission is gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed in different locations in the Syrian Arab Republic during the period under review," the commission said in its report, concluding that Assad's government bore responsibility for the crimes.
"The sheer scale and consistent pattern of attacks by military and security forces on civilians and civilian neighborhoods and the widespread destruction of property could only be possible with the approval or complicity of the [Syrian state]," it said.
The panel, which interviewed 223 victims and witnesses - including defectors - called on Syria to halt the "gross human rights violations" and release prisoners rounded up in mass arrests. It also called for access to the country to be given to media, aid workers and rights monitors. The three members of the panel, from Brazil, Turkey, and the United States, were refused access to the country to compile their report.
'Declaration of economic war'
In their report, the human rights experts listed widespread, arbitrary detention of protesters, torture and rape of prisoners as a routine practice, shoot-to-kill orders, as well as the targeting of children.
They called on the UN Human Rights Council to "take urgent steps" to involve the Security Council in a bid to put an end to these violations. Nothing concrete was mentioned as to what shape such steps could take.
Meanwhile, in response to recent sanctions imposed on Syria by the Arab League, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem dismissed all allegations that Syrian forces were in breach of international law.
Assad has repeatedly rejected calls to step down
During a press conference on Monday, al-Moallem showed a film containing scenes of graphic violence against pro-government supporters allegedly committed by armed protesters.
He went on to complain that the Arab League sanctions were tantamount to the "declaration of economic war against Syria" and accused the organization of closing "all windows" of negotiations and of turning a blind eye on the "terrorist gangs" who are murdering government supporters.
But he claimed that Syria had removed 95 percent of its assets from the Arab countries imposing the boycott.
Assad's administration has vehemently denied reports that its forces are killing demonstrators in anti-regime protests around the country, which began in mid-March after the successful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
According to UN figures, at least 3,500 people in Syria have died in the unrest.
Author: Gabriel Borrud (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton