Syria subjecting civilians to mass punishment: U.N

GENEVA Mon Mar 12, 2012 3:01pm EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian forces have bombed civilian areas in collective punishment for allegedly harboring opposition forces, made mass arrests and executed people in Homs, United Nations investigators said on Monday.

Paulo Pinheiro, addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council on behalf of an independent panel, said those who committed such crimes must face justice. He did not name any suspects.

But the three-member panel said last month it had drawn up a confidential list of suspects alleged to be behind documented crimes against humanity, including murder and torture, for future prosecution by a credible body.

A month of unrelenting shelling by Syrian forces had brought death and destruction to the Baba Amr district of Homs, Pinheiro, the panel's chairman, said.

"Those who fled the area reported summary executions and mass arbitrary arrest campaigns," he said in a speech to the 47-member forum in Geneva.

Pinheiro told Reuters: "These are the allegations we have received regarding government forces."

The human rights and humanitarian situation was becoming bleaker day by day in Homs, Idlib, Hama, rural Damascus and Deraa, he said, calling for aid workers to have access.

"We continue to receive reports of an intensification of violence in Idlib and elsewhere," he told a news briefing.

Force used by the government against armed groups had often led to "collective punishment of civilians", Pinheiro said.

"We are referring to indiscriminate bombardment of cities. Mortars sent on residents' houses because they are under suspicion they collaborate with armed groups, the opposition. In that sense, we use the term collective punishment," the Brazilian added.

The daily life of the population, often prevented from going out to buy food due to snipers, has been severely affected.

Maria Angela Zappia, ambassador of the European Union (EU), said there should be no impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

"Those responsible must be held to account and a referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court would be a logical step," she said of the Hague-based U.N. court.

KILLINGS, TORTURE, BOMBINGS

U.S. diplomat Casey L. Addis said: "The Assad regime's brutal killings, torture and indiscriminate bombings continue day after day in Syria. The Assad regime has long lost its legitimacy to remain in power."

The United Nations says more than 7,500 people have been killed in a year of unrest against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. They include more than 500 children and the "toll is mounting", Pinheiro said.

The mission of Kofi Annan, joint special envoy of the U.N. and Arab League for Syria, must be supported to help promote a peaceful solution to the crisis, he said.

"We have to believe in his patient mediation, that is his role," Pinheiro told reporters in Geneva. "I think it is very positive that he had access to Damascus and was able to have long conversations with the Syrian government."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Assad to act within days on U.N.-Arab League peace proposals.

Syria's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, rejected the U.N. panel's work as "politicized".

"The crisis is not due to peaceful protests or demands for reform. The crisis is due to the influence of external parties bent on afflicting my country, waging a media war against Syria and imposing economic sanctions against the Syrian people."

Syrian opposition fighters are backed by "al Qaeda which has penetrated the country from 13 different countries", he said.

"Civil war is being ignited ... this is a prelude to partition of Syria, this is the aim of Israel and those supporting the endeavor, the prolonged colonization of Arab territories," he told the session, which continues on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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