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U.N. Report: All Sides Committing Atrocities In Syria


U.N. investigators have gathered a list of suspected war criminals in Syria. After two and a half years of fact finding, they now believe there is enough evidence to prepare indictments against individuals on both sides of the conflict for torture, executions and kidnappings. The findings are part of an overall report on Syria presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this week. It condemns the international community for doing little more than bearing witness to the suffering of the Syrian people.

To discuss the report, we reached Karen Abuzayd, one of the commissioners of International Commission of Inquiry for Syria.

Ms. Abuzayd, thank you very much for helping us out here.

KAREN ABUZAYD: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: Now, in your report you describe acts of terror against civilians in Syria, perpetuated by all sides in the conflict. What can you tell me about that?

ABUZAYD: Well, we know that the acts of terror themselves are committed on both sides: Suicide bombs and acts like that are committed by the opposition; the barrel bombs that are now being used by the government to commit acts of terror against the people in the villages.

WERTHEIMER: You talk about barrel bombs, could you just describe what those are?

ABUZAYD: There are in something like a barrel. They are filled with scrap metal and nails and other sorts of things. And they are dropped from planes, helicopters and they are totally indiscriminate, which is what makes a real crime. Because they drop them on areas where there are a lot of civilians and they hurt anyone who's anywhere near them.

And something we've seen when we visited hospitals in neighboring countries where the refugees are looked after, just horrific injuries especially of the children. You know, they lose their legs, they lose their other limbs. It's pretty horrific.

WERTHEIMER: So you've actually compiled a list of names of people responsible for these kinds of crimes. Where are they coming from? Who are they?

ABUZAYD: We certainly do have names. We also don't know the name but we will say unit such-and-such from the military, or the detention center in this particular place, or an intelligence service in this airport, for example. You know, one presumes the name of the commander because it's command responsibility as well as individual responsibility that is identified.

WERTHEIMER: So what you're suggesting is that even if you don't name individuals in this report, it would not be terribly difficult to figure out who they are.

ABUZAYD: One wouldn't think so, yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Your report also says that in Syria now people are actually starving to death.

ABUZAYD: Yes, this has been particularly I think the most extraordinary picture that's come out of Syria - and there have been a lot of those. Besieged people are at least 250,000, that's the U.N. figure. Many people say it's much more than that. And some of these villages and towns have been under siege for months, if not years. So you can imagine how they are functioning. They are eating grass and weeds and cats and whatever else they can scavenge.

WERTHEIMER: You also say in the report that just about the only thing that has worked at all, in terms of outside intervention, is humanitarian aid. I gather that just not enough of it.

ABUZAYD: That's for sure. First of all, you know, more money needs to come. But there's also a problem of getting the humanitarian aid to the refugees or to the displaced people inside the country. So there is a big problem certainly of reaching the people who are in need.

WERTHEIMER: You've condemned the international community for its failure to act. What kind of international response would you like to see as a result of this report?

ABUZAYD: Well, I think when we seem to - in the international community we're really talking about Security Council. That's why we were happy they were able to make a resolution on humanitarian aid. But they have not been able to talk about condemning the people who have committed the crimes and lead toward an accountability that the people of Syria certainly need and deserve.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much for talking to us.

ABUZAYD: Thank you. I'm very pleased to be doing so.

WERTHEIMER: Karen Abuzayd is with the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.