Syrian forces and their supporting Shabbiha fighters have committed "war crimes and gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," according to a report [text, DOC; press release, PDF] released Wednesday by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI). The report found that government and Shabbiha forces are responsible for instances of rape, murder, torture and attacks against civilian populations. The report further concluded that the Syrian government was responsible for the deaths of more than 100 civilians, including women and children, in Al-Houla in May. The COI had previously released an inconclusive report [JURIST report] suggesting that government forces in Syria played a role in the deaths. The new report confirms that Shabbiha fighters and government forces were responsible for the massacre. The report also notes that anti-government forces have also committed human rights violations, but says that "these violations and abuses were not of the same gravity, frequency and scale as those committed by Government forces and the Shabbiha." UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos [official profile] visited Syria on Wednesday and urged [press release] both sides of the Syrian conflict to respect international law and strive to protect those displaced by the violence. The government of Syria has reported that about 1.2 million people have been been forced to leave their homes because of the conflict. Amos noted that displaced civilians are experiencing shortages of food, clean water, and medical care.
The international community has strongly criticized the Syrian government during its prolonged and violent conflict with opposition forces. Head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) [official website] on Monday expressed concern [JURIST report] about the growing number of civilian casualties in violent clashes between government forces and armed opposition groups. Earlier this month the UN General Assembly passed a resolution [JURIST report] criticizing the Syrian government for increasing its use of heavy weapons and calling on both sides of the conflict to stop fighting. Also this month Amnesty International published a report holding Syria responsible for crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in July insisted that the Syrian government take steps to protect civilians [JURIST report] during armed conflicts. Earlier that month, Amos urged parties to the conflict to avoid harming civilians [JURIST report]. She stressed that failure to take precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants amounts to a war crime.