U.N. panel cites evidence of war crimes by both sides in Syria


GENEVA — As the United States and Russia searched for a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons, a four-person U.N. rights panel presented detailed evidence today of what it said were war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by pro-government forces and, to a lesser extent, rebels in the 30-month conflict.

Bolstered by weapons and money from regional and global powers waging a proxy war, Syria’s government and rebel forces have committed murder, torture, rape and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, without fear of future punishment, the panel, a Commission of Inquiry that was expanded last fall, said in its latest report to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

The report was careful to hold both sides responsible, but the unevenness of the conflict — with heavily armed government forces battling rebels with scanty, sometimes homemade arsenals — was evident. Of the nine mass killings the panel investigated for the report, eight were attributed to the government side and one to rebels.

“Relentless shelling has killed thousands of civilians and displaced the populations of entire towns,” the report said, leaving government responsibility implicit. “Massacres and other unlawful killings are perpetrated with impunity. An untold number of men, children and women have disappeared. Many have died in detention.”

The panel’s new report tracks the investigations the panel conducted over three months, ending in mid-July. It is dated Aug. 16, five days before a chemical weapons attack on a suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus, that prompted threats of punitive military strikes by the United States and France.

A successful outcome to their talks would avert U.S. military strikes against President Bashar Assad’s government. It might also revive efforts to convene a second Geneva conference to broker an end to the conflict.

The alternative risks the continuation or widening of a conflict that the panel says has intensified in recent months, reigniting tensions in neighboring countries and posing a wider threat to the stability of the region.

The panel, which has not been allowed to enter Syria, relies largely on interviews with refugees and defectors. Its new report says government forces unleashed indiscriminate bombardment by tanks, artillery and aircraft against areas they were unwilling or unable to control.

The panel called on the international community to halt arms transfers to Syria and to take “tangible steps to curb the increasing influence of extremists,” insisting there is no possibility of a military solution.