Members of the Free Syrian Army patrol an area in Qusayr. - Photo by AFP
Members of the Free Syrian Army patrol an area in Qusayr. - Photo by AFP

GENEVA: Growing numbers of victims of the conflict in Syria are being targeted on account of their religion while gross violations of human rights are occurring on a regular basis, UN investigators said Wednesday.

The new report from a commission of inquiry (CoI) said that violence has actually been escalating in Syria since May despite the Assad regime's agreement to implement a peace plan the previous month.

The commission, which delivered its report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, also said that it believed many of the victims of a massacre in the central town of Houla last month were killed by the government.

The findings of the report triggered a walkout by the Syrian delegation as it was being read out at the rights council's headquarters in Geneva.

“We will not participate in this flagrantly political meeting,” said Syrian ambassador Faisal Khabbaz Hamoui before leaving the hall.

The walkout came as the commission told the council that the unrest was taking on an increasingly sectarian basis.

“Where previously victims were targeted on the basis of their being pro or anti-government, the CoI has recorded a growing number of incidents where victims appear to have been targeted because of their religious affiliation,” said the report.

After President Bashar al-Assad told his cabinet on Tuesday that Syria was in a “real situation of war”, the CoI agreed that the 16-month revolt against his rule now bore the hallmarks of an armed conflict.

“Gross violations of human rights are occurring regularly, in the context of increasingly militarised fighting which—in some areas—bears the characteristics of a non-international armed conflict,” said the report.

At the request of the rights council, the CoI focused on the massacre in Houla where at least 108 people were killed in a 24-hour period on May 25-26.

A Syrian government inquiry has claimed that the victims, many of them women and children shot in their homes, were killed by 600-800 “terrorists” who flooded in from surrounding village.

The commission said it was not able to identify the perpetrators but said it suspected forces loyal to Assad of many of the deaths.It did not rule out the involvement of anti-government forces seeking to escalate the conflict and punishing non-supporters of the rebellion and also “foreign groups with unknown affiliation”.

The panel has not been allowed to travel around Syria or access sites such as Houla, basing its findings on interviews, photos and videos.

The commission chair Paulo Pinheiro did however hold interviews in Damascus from June 23-25 with Syria's deputy foreign and deputy justice ministers.

The panel was established last September by the UN Human Rights Council and its latest findings cover the period from February up to June 15.


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