GENEVA (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces and pro-government shabiha fighters have perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity on Syrian civilians, a U.N. expert panel concluded Wednesday in a report that provides in chilling detail further evidence of a conflict spiraling out of control.
The panel appointed by the U.N.'s 47-nation Human Rights Council blamed the government and allied militia for the killing of more than 100 civilians in the village of Houla in May, nearly half of them children, and said the murders, unlawful killing, torture, sexual violence and indiscriminate attacks "indicate the involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the government."
The panel also concluded in its final report Wednesday to the Geneva-based council that anti-government armed groups committed war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial killings and torture, but at a lesser frequency and scale.
The report covers the period between Feb. 15 and July 20 and involved 1,062 interviews, both in the field and in Geneva. But the panel members emphasized their lack of ability to carry out their U.N. mandate within Syria hampered their investigation.
Activists say more than 20,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria's revolt, inspired by other Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic regimes in the region.
The conflict has slowly changed into a full blown civil war that the panel says involves "more brutal tactics and new military capabilities on both sides."