President Bashar al-Assad
President Bashar al-AssadAFP photo

The United Nation's High Commissioner for Human Rights has for the first time said that war crimes by pro-regime forces in Syria were authorized "at the highest level," including by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It is the first time Navi Pillay has directly accused Assad of crimes against humanity, and could pave the way to an international prosecution - although with western states and Russia pinning their hopes on an upcoming "peace conference" in Geneva, that seems an unlikely prospect.

Pillay made the statements based on the findings of a special inquiry into abuses by both sides in the Syrian civil war, and added that "the scale and viciousness of the abuses being perpetrated by elements on both sides almost defies belief." 

The report contains "massive evidence... [of] very serious crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity," orders for which came "at the highest level of government, including the head of state", she said.

The Syrian civil war has killed more than 110,000 people according to UN estimates, and has displaced millions more, both internally and in neighboring states.