* UN investigators accuse all sides of killings, torture
* Conclude govt forces and militia guilty of Houla massacre
* War crimes by rebels, not of same gravity or scale
* Security Council urged to take action given evidence
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Aug 15 Syrian government forces and
allied militia have committed war crimes including murder and
torture of civilians in what appears to be state-directed
policy, U.N. investigators said on Wednesday.
Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad
had also committed war crimes, including executions, but on a
smaller scale than those by the army and security forces.
The report called for the U.N. Security Council to take
"appropriate action" given the gravity of documented violations
by all sides in a 17-month conflict that investigators said had
become a civil war.
"We have identified both parties as guilty of war crimes and
of course a greater number and of bigger variety from the
government side," Karen AbuZayd, one of two commissioners aided
by some 20 investigators, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Paulo Pinheiro, the commissioner who led the probe, said
Syria's army of 300,000 had targeted rebel-held areas of cities
with heavy artillery and helicopters. It had "much more means to
inflict war crimes, for example bombing civilian populations".
"Besides evidence, we have names connected to the evidence,"
Pinheiro told Reuters, speaking from his native Brazil.
"But we are not a judicial or prosecutorial body. This is a
problem for the Security Council, not for us."
The Security Council can refer a case to the prosecutor of
the International Criminal Court (ICC), the U.N. war crimes
tribunal, but Russia and China - which have veto power - have
been loath to condemn Syria.
The independent investigators conducted more than 1,000
interviews, mainly with Syrian refugees or defectors who have
fled to neighbouring countries, over the past year to produce
their latest 102-page report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
They found "reasonable grounds" to affirm that government
forces and their allied shabbiha militia had committed crimes
against humanity, war crimes and other gross violations.
These included "unlawful killing, torture, arbitrary arrest
and detention, sexual violence, indiscriminate attack, pillaging
and destruction of property".
Government forces and shabbiha militia had raped men, women
and children in acts that could be prosecuted as crimes against
humanity, the investigators said. Government troops had targeted
staff of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, a war crime, they said.
A Syrian air strike killed 30 people in a rebel-held town
on Wednesday, a local doctor said, and a mass kidnapping linked
to Syria in neighbouring Lebanon raised the prospect of
sectarian violence spreading.
"PURSUANT TO STATE POLICY"
Evidence confirmed a previous finding that "violations had
been committed pursuant to State policy", the U.N. report said.
Large-scale operations conducted in different provinces,
their similar complexity and integrated military/security
apparatus "indicate involvement at the highest levels of the
armed and security forces and the government".
Rebels had killed captured government soldiers, shabbiha and
suspected informers, sometimes after summary trials, the
investigators said. "Executing a prisoner without affording
fundamental judicial guarantees is a war crime," they added.
"We have many instances reported to us where the
anti-government forces have executed prisoners. They say they
don't have detention facilities and are not based in one
territory and can't take care of them. This is a war crime,"
Both government forces and armed insurgents had displayed
"more brutal tactics and new military capabilities" as fighting
escalated during recent months, the report said.
Each side had violated children's rights, it said. At least
125 youths under age 18, mainly boys, had been killed since
February, while others were arbitrarily arrested without charge.
"Children described having been beaten, whipped with
electrical cables, burned with cigarettes and subjected to
electrical shocks to the genitals," the investigators said of
those in the custody of state forces.
Armed insurgents continue to use children as couriers or to
help with medical evacuations, they said.
Completing their probe into a massacre in the town of Houla
in May - which the government blamed on Islamist "terrorists" -
they said government forces and shabbiha fighters were
responsible for the killings of more than 100 civilians.
Forty-one children were killed in Houla, including some by
shelling, "but most appeared to have been shot at close range".
The investigators said they would update their confidential
list of suspects or units responsible for crimes and give it to
U.N. rights boss Navi Pillay when their mandate ends next month.
"We don't name any names in the report," AbuZayd said. "But
the evidence is recorded all along."