GENEVA (2 AUGUST 2013) - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said that allegations that armed opposition groups in Syria executed dozens of government soldiers captured after a battle in Khan Al-Assal in July are "deeply shocking", and highlighted yet again the need to ensure those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law on all sides are made to account for their crimes.
Footage taken by opposition forces in Khan Al-Assal, a district in rural Aleppo, was posted on the internet between 22 and 26 July. One video apparently shows government soldiers being ordered to lie on the ground, while another shows several bodies scattered along a wall and a number of bodies at an adjacent site.
"These images, if verified, suggest that executions were committed in Khan Al-Assal," the High Commissioner said. "There needs to be a thorough independent investigation to establish whether war crimes have been committed. And those responsible for such crimes should be brought to justice," she added.
The High Commissioner said her team in the region was investigating the reports, and had examined the videos and collected accounts from people in Aleppo. Their early analysis had identified two men not in uniform who were alive in one video but were among the dead bodies in another, she said.
Another video shows bodies being collected by members of the Red Crescent and Free Syrian Army medical doctors. There were several other videos showing the bodies of dead government soldiers scattered around town, most of whom appeared to have been shot in the head.
"Based on the analysis by my team to date, we believe armed opposition groups in one incident - documented by a video - executed at least 30 individuals, the majority of whom appeared to be soldiers," Pillay said.
There have been reports that the overall number of dead in Khan Al-Assal was much higher and the OHCHR team in the region is continuing to investigate the circumstances and scope of the killings.
The events in Khan Al-Assal are further evidence that flagrant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by all parties have tragically become the norm in the Syrian conflict, said the High Commissioner.
The Commission of Inquiry on Syria has previously highlighted the emerging patterns of summary execution and murder, perpetrated by government forces and its affiliated militias, as well as anti-Government armed groups.
The OHCHR team also received information from a reliable source that opposition fighters still hold government officers and soldiers captured in Khan Al-Assal. The High Commissioner reminds the parties to the conflict that all persons no longer taking part in hostilities, including captured and wounded soldiers, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely and in accordance with international law.
“Opposition forces should not think they are immune from prosecution. They must adhere to their responsibilities under international law," Pillay said.
The High Commissioner welcomed news that UN investigators are to be allowed to visit three sites, among them Khan Al-Assal, where chemical weapons have allegedly been used.
"Let me also renew my call to the Syrian Government to grant representatives from my Office and the Commission of Inquiry on Syria access to the country, in order to be able to investigate human rights violations, no matter who committed them," Pillay said.
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