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Serious human rights violations have soared dramatically in Syria in recent weeks, the head of a UN commission tasked with probing the abuses said Monday, calling for "appropriate action" against war criminals in the country.
"Gross violations of human rights have grown in number, in pace and in scale," Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a top UN investigator, told diplomats gathered in Geneva Monday, as violence rattled Damascus and Syria's second city Aleppo.
He said violations were occurring with such frequency that it was becoming impossible to investigate them all.
"Civilians, many of them children, are bearing the brunt of the spiraling violence," he said.
Speaking during the 21st session of the UN's Human Rights Council, Pinheiro presented an updated version of his commission's report from last month, which said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and the opposition to a lesser extent, had committed war crimes during the 18-month uprising.
"We have recommended that our report be forwarded to the Security Council for its deliberations so it might take appropriate action in view of the gravity of the violations, abuses and crimes perpetrated by government forces and the Shabiha, and by anti-government groups," he said.
The UN commission has been drawing up a confidential list of people responsible for the atrocities, but Pinheiro on Monday did not explicitly call for the deeply divided UN Security Council to refer them to the International Criminal Court, as many had expected he would.
In their comments after his presentation, representatives of a number of countries, including Britain and Switzerland, called for the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria to be sent to the ICC.
A recommendation by the commission for cases be referred to the ICC would be a first step towards eventually bringing those responsible for the atrocities in Syria to justice.
But before any trials could take place, agreement would be needed from the Security Council — for whom consensus on the matter appears all but impossible.
A year and a half into the crisis, the international community remains paralyzed, with the West, the Gulf Arab countries and Turkey calling for the removal of Assad, and Russia and China standing by their ally in Damascus.
Pinheiro reiterated Monday that "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" were being committed in Syria.
"In a dramatic escalation, indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the form of air strikes and artillery shelling leveled against residential neighborhoods are occurring daily," he said, adding that the indiscriminate use of weapons, combined with a failure to protect civilians, reflected "a disturbing disregard for established rules of armed conflict."
The probe did not spare rebel fighters, whom it said had committed war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture.
"The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic has deteriorated to such a degree that it is difficult to describe," Pinheiro said, as fighting raged on the ground in Aleppo, a day after at least 148 people were killed across Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Overall, the death toll from conflict has risen to more than 27,000 people, according to the group, which relies on activist accounts from the ground. The United Nations puts the toll at 20,000.
While calling for the Security Council to jump into action, Pinheiro meanwhile stressed Monday that his commission would not make the names on its list of suspected war criminals public, citing the commission's lower standard of proof as compared to in a court of law.
Human Rights Watch called Monday on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
"This is one measure that all Security Council members, including Russia, should find it easy to agree on if they are truly concerned about the violations committed in Syria," Nadim Houry, a director with the group, said in a statement.
After Pinheiro's presentation, Faysal Khabbaz Hamouia, a representative of the Syrian government, slammed the report as inaccurate.
"Syria calls on all who support the bloodshed of (its) people ... to stop doing so," he said, charging that the international community was stoking the flames of the conflict, while 17 countries were sending "jihadist terrorists" to fight for the "fragmentation of the Middle East into Islamic emirates."