The United Nations has evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is directly orchestrating atrocities against his opponents, Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told The Daily Telegraph on Friday.
The evidence paves the way for a war crime trial if he is ever handed over to face international justice, she said.
Assad was deeply implicated in the growing toll of atrocities in Syria, Pillay told the newspaper, warning that he must not be permitted to “trade justice for peace” in any future negotiations.
Investigators working for the UN teams, including a specialist commission of inquiry to track fighting in Syria, had no doubt that Assad was personally involved in orders issued to the army, and controlled its vicious sectarian allies, the Shabiha militias, she said.
“I am assured on the basis of the evidence my officers have gathered … that the evidence implicates him by the actions of his subordinates,” she told the Telegraph. “It points to commissions of atrocities and human rights violations by his soldiers, his forces and Shabiha. He is very much the commander-in-chief and these are his forces. The evidence points to and implicates him in that way.”
Reports on Assad’s role have been drawn from inside the regime, from survivors’ accounts and from intelligence handed to the UN from outside the country, the Telegraph reported.
Pillay also backed a claim by the UN General Assembly that the true death toll in Syria had now surpassed 80,000, an increase of more than 20,000 since January. Back in February, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the death toll in Syria may have reached 90,000, citing figures given to him by his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal.
“We are now continuing to verify the information and in a few days’ time we will come out with some certainty on an updated figure,” she said.
While both sides have committed war crimes, Pillay blamed the regime for the intensifying brutality of the civil war, as Assad increasingly turned to tanks and artillery to crush resistance in areas loyal to the opposition.
“The killings are largely attributable, based on the evidence, to the shelling and use of heavy weapons by the government,” she told the Telegraph.
She expressed her fears that Assad could use a new round of peace talks brokered by the U.S. and Russia to escape responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands in his offensives.
The conference, due to assemble within weeks in Geneva, will attempt to form a transitional government that includes both the government and opposition.
“Those who are most responsible must be held to account. As High Commissioner for Human Rights I am particularly watchful that justice is not sacrificed for peace,” said Pillay.
She added that she feared the sponsors of the peace talks would overlook the suffering of Syrians in pursuit of a ceasefire pact.
“Peace may be what people probably want immediately. I am saying there has to be accountability — it has to be part of that peace. Victims hunger for justice,” said Pillay.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)