UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] said on Tuesday that the mutilation of a Syrian soldier seen in an Internet video should be investigated as a potential war crime. Pillay urged [press release] Syrian rebels to stop the "truly atrocious" acts. Although the video cannot be fully authenticated, it appears to show a Syrian rebel leader cutting out and biting the heart of a dead soldier. As Pillay stressed, "mutilating or desecrating corpses during a conflict is a war crime." Opposition fighters have also been accused of acts of torture, summary executions and extra-judicial killings.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] has been going on since 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile], and the increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. Last month Assad issued a decree reducing prison terms [JURIST report] for a number of rebel prisoners, but the move was dismissed as a "meaningless gesture" by activists. Also in April Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused the Syrian Air Force of deliberately targeting civilians [JURIST report] in air strikes in opposition-controlled areas. In March HRW accused Syria's military of using widely-banned cluster munitions [JURIST report] against civilians. In February the UN said that both the Syrian government and the anti-government rebels are committing war crimes [JURIST report]. Earlier that month Pillay reported that the death toll after two years [JURIST report] of armed conflict approached 70,000. In January more than 50 countries asked the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.