A panel of UN investigators faulted the UN Security Council on Wednesday for not bringing those responsible for human rights crimes in Syria to justice, including by referring them to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“The Security Council bears responsibility for not adressing accountability and allowing the warring parties to violate these rules with total impunity,” said Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, head of the Geneva-based UN commission of inquiry on Syria.
The commission presented a report that, for the first time, accused anti-government fighters of committing crimes against humanity.
It had previously only blamed the government for such crimes.
In its new report to the UN Human Rights Council, the commission said several Islamist groups had systematically detained and tortured civilians. It said that government forces and allied militias were continuing systematic murder, torture, rape and kidnapping.
The rebels’ crimes against humanity were committed in the northern al-Raqqa province, where ethnic Kurds have been detained and tortured, said the commission, which has not been allowed into Syria.
The report said the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and the Shahid Walid al-Sukhni Battalion all operate detention and torture centres.
“The acts committed by non-state armed groups identified above in areas under their control against the civilian population constitute torture and inhuman treatment as a war crime and, in the context of (al-Raqqa), as a crime against humanity,” the commission found.
The panel of independent experts said it was very concerned about widespread sieges on civilian areas, the frequent use of crude barrel bombs by the government since August, and the increasing targeting of children and recruitment of child soldiers.
In Syria, regime warplanes on Wednesday dropped barrels packed with explosives in rebel-held areas near Damascus, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
No casualties were reported.
The UN inquiry commission and international human rights groups have condemned the use of such indiscriminate weapons, saying their use constitutes a war crime.
Syria has missed several deadlines set by the Security Council to remove and destroy its arsenal, prompting Western powers on Wednesday at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to voice misgivings over the delays.
Western envoys rejected Syria’s proposal to keep its former chemical weapons production facilities for civilian use.
The Security Council in New York was briefed on Wednesday on the progress of removing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons by Sigrid Kaag, who heads the mission.
“There has been an acceleration and intensification of efforts by the Syrian Arab Republic, (and a) revised timeline has been submitted by the authorities,” Ms. Kaag told reporters in New York after briefing the council.
She said so far one-third of Syria’s chemical weapons material has been removed or destroyed, and the mission expected that it would top 40 per cent “in the next few days.” Asked if the ongoing tensions among council members over Ukraine could slow the removal of Syrian chemical weapons, Ms. Kaag said: “The unity of purpose and voice of the Security Council was once more clear this morning, and I think we are very fortunate to have this.” The Syrian uprising, which started in March 2011 with peaceful demonstrations that quickly descended into civil war, has claimed at least 140,000 lives, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
UN agencies say that some 2.4 million Syrians have fled the country, and 6.5 million are internally displaced out of a population of 22.4 million.
Syrian warplanes launched three airstrikes on Wednesday in neighbouring Lebanon, according to the state-run Lebanese National News Agency.
The raids targeted areas near the north-eastern Lebanese town of Arsal, said the report, giving no casualty figures.
The Syrian Army had in the past targeted Arsal, which has sheltered thousands of Syrian refugees.