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UN panel says both sides guilty of crimes

GENEVA — As the United States and Russia searched for a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons, a four-person UN rights panel presented detailed evidence Wednesday of what it said were war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by pro-government forces and, to a lesser extent, rebels in the 30-month conflict.

Bolstered by weapons and money from regional and global powers waging a proxy war, Syria’s government and rebel forces have committed murder, torture, rape, and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, without fear of future punishment, the panel, a Commission of Inquiry that was expanded last fall, said in its latest report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

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The report was careful to hold both sides responsible, but the unevenness of the conflict — with heavily armed government forces battling rebels with scanty, sometimes homemade arsenals — was evident.

Of the nine mass killings the panel investigated for the report, eight were attributed to the government side and one to rebels.

“Relentless shelling has killed thousands of civilians and displaced the populations of entire towns,” the report said, leaving government responsibility implicit.

“Massacres and other unlawful killings are perpetrated with impunity. An untold number of men, children, and women have disappeared. Many have died in detention.”

“The perpetrators of these violations and crimes, on all sides, act in defiance of international law,” the report said. “They do not fear accountability. Referral to justice is imperative.”

The new report echoes warnings the panel issued in February, when it reported evidence of war crimes on both sides and said the violence was worsening, with increasing sectarianism.

It cited the radicalizing influence of a growing number of foreign fighters, and “the proliferation of weapons and types of weapons used.”

At that time, the rights panel urged the United Nations Security Council to refer those responsible for crimes to the International Criminal Court.

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