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Syria boycotts U.N. torture hearing, charges mount
GENEVA (Reuters) - Syria boycotted a hearing by the United Nations' main anti-torture body on Wednesday, avoiding a grilling over its crackdown on civilians during a year-old uprising.
Nobody from Syria's mission in Geneva was available to explain the absence, but an exchange of letters showed Syria had earlier complained about being treated disrespectfully by the U.N. Committee Against Torture.
Wednesday's session went ahead without anyone in Syria's chair and a second session scheduled for Friday, when Syria was supposed to respond to accusations, was cancelled.
The catalogue of accusations against Syria was so long that it took several minutes for the committee's chairman Claudio Grossman to run through the list of categories of reported abuses.
They included the rape of boys, the use of snipers, electroshocks to the anus, forced oral sex, attacks on demonstrators being treated in hospitals, the use of heavy weapons in built up areas and summary executions.
"We've rarely if ever had evidence of the scope and detail of this routine usage in prisons," said one of the committee's vice chairpersons Felice Gaer during the session.
"While we wait for a political solution that is not forthcoming, we're seeing denials of physical integrity and of human life," said another vice chairperson Essadia Belmir. "People's dignity depends on it, as does the credibility of the entire U.N. system."
A U.N. investigative team has already accused the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of widespread human rights abuses in the crackdown against opponents and demonstrators against his government.
Assad had dismissed the accusations and blames the violence on terrorists and countries that "sow chaos" in Syria.
A month-old truce brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan has failed to stop the violence, which has killed more than 9,000, according to U.N. figures, and caused a refugee crisis in the region.
Grossman had asked Syria in November to report to the committee because of reports of "massive human rights violations (that) take place in a context of total and absolute impunity", according to correspondence published by the committee.
Syria responded on February 20 by saying the committee's information was "nothing more than allegations" and demanded "detailed clarification... in order to avoid wasting both our time and the committee's". Damascus said it would provide more information in a report in 2014.
On March 21, a letter from Syria's mission in Geneva complained that Damascus had not been consulted about the date of the committee meeting and had been treated disrespectfully.
"This action is contrary to the most fundamental rules of diplomatic conduct, including in the context of the various human rights treaty bodies," the letter said.
"The committee's decision to impose a fait accompli on a sovereign state is unacceptable."
The committee is made up of a panel of experts which reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which can in turn make recommendations to the U.N. Security Council.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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