The Syrian conflict has become “increasingly militarized” as killings and torture by Syrian security forces and anti-government fighters raged this spring, a U.N. panel reported Thursday.
“Gross violations continue unabated,” said the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, with most “serious human rights violations” committed by regime forces.
“Whereas government forces had previously been responding primarily to demonstrations, they now face armed and well-organized fighters — bolstered by defectors who joined them.”
The abuses documented in the report “reflect this shifting context” amid widespread fears that Syria’s popular anti-government uprising, spurred by a tough crackdown against peaceful protests, is spiraling toward all-out civil war.
Violence has raged daily, and at least 30 people were killed across the country Thursday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. U.N. officials say more than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, have died and tens of thousands have been uprooted since the uprising began in March 2011. Opposition groups report a higher death toll.
The commission said the abuses have mounted since March, even though President Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition forces say they have embraced U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.
The military has conducted “large-scale” strikes on sites known for “hosting defectors and/or armed persons” escorting demonstrations or supporting the Free Syrian Army, the anti-government resistance force, the report said.
Killings occurred when security forces shelled “small opposition strongholds,” conducted house-to-house searches and placed snipers on rooftops. Lethal force has been used against demonstrations in Idlib, Homs, Aleppo, Hama, Damascus, Daraa and villages across the country.
“Many such protests were accompanied by armed groups, which have described their role as providing protection for the demonstrators. The resulting clashes were deadly for demonstrators, members of these armed groups and security forces alike, yet too often citizens bore the brunt of the violence.”
The report cited torture and arbitrary arrest, giving as an example the case of a man accused of trafficking for anti-government groups.
“They allegedly beat him severely and applied electric shocks to his legs,” the report said.
Children have been killed or injured in attacks on protests and by gunfire from snipers, and government forces have targeted schools and used one as a command post.
Boys as young as age 10 detained by regime forces “repeatedly indicate that they are tortured to admit that older male members of their family are ‘Free Syrian Army’ soldiers or supporters,” the report said.
“Wounded children have been unable to seek treatment due to fears of being perceived as anti-government armed groups’ supporters or for fear of being beaten in health facilities. Children have died due to a lack of health care during government blockades. Some, including those injured as a result of torture, have been willfully denied medical care.”
Anti-government armed groups executed security forces and suspected collaborators, the report said. One military defector cited the execution of three Iranian snipers. There was one report of a trial process and other reports of “makeshift prisons.”
“One anti-government armed group fighter also admitted that he and his associates had killed government soldiers when the captives refused to join them,” the report said.
The groups also have increased their use of the homemade bombs known as improvised explosive devices. Some people interviewed described bombs made of “nails inside pipes with explosive powder and a fuse,” and others made of gas and fertilizer. One fighter described planting mines that targeted army tanks.
There have been reports of security forces or their supporters confessing under torture after their capture by resistance fighters.
“Two Iranians, held in late January 2012 and released in late April 2012, later made public statements about physical abuse suffered, including the breaking of bones, during their captivity.”
There have been instances of the fighters kidnapping security forces and civilians, purportedly for prisoner exchanges but also for ransoms to buy weapons. The anti-government groups have used children “as medical porters, messengers and cooks, for units in the field, and delivery of medical supplies to field hospitals.”
The report cited bombing attacks in Damascus, Aleppo and Daraa between March and May, including the suicide car bombings in Damascus on May 10 that left 55 people dead.
The commission said it can’t “ascertain” who is responsible for the “criminal acts. Some analysts and officials broached the possibility that neither security forces nor anti-government forces are responsible. They broach the possibility that “third” forces, such as jihadi groups, are responsible for such actions.
The report was issued as Syria’s newly elected parliament convened to elect a speaker and swear in new members. The government said the elections were all-inclusive, but opposition forces call the process a sham.
The opposition Syrian National Council is looking for a new leader after the resignation of its Paris-based president, Burhan Ghalioun. The Syrian opposition has long been fractious, a disappointment to Western and Arab nations who dislike the regime and want al-Assad out of power.