Serious human rights violations have soared dramatically in Syria, a top UN investigator said Monday, calling for "appropriate action" against perpetrators of atrocities in the wartorn country.
"Gross violations of human rights have grown in number, in pace and in scale," Paulo Sergio Pinheiro told diplomats gathered in Geneva, as more violence shook Damascus and Syria's second city Aleppo.
Pinheiro, head of a UN commission tasked with probing the abuses, said violations were occurring with such frequency that it was becoming impossible to investigate them all.
"Civilians, many of them children, are bearing the brunt of the spiralling violence," he told the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Pinheiro described "a dramatic escalation, indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the form of air strikes and artillery shelling levelled against residential neighbourhoods," decrying "a disturbing disregard for established rules of armed conflict."
"The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic has deteriorated to such a degree that it is difficult to describe," he said.
Pinheiro was presenting an updated version of his commission's report from last month, which said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and the opposition to a lesser extent, had committed war crimes during the 18-month crisis.
"We have recommended that our report be forwarded to the Security Council for its deliberations so it might take appropriate action in view of the gravity of the violations, abuses and crimes perpetrated by government forces and the Shabbiha (allied militia), and by anti-government groups," he said.
The UN commission has been drawing up a confidential list of people responsible for the atrocities, and Pinheiro told reporters Monday it wanted to see the UN Security Council refer them to the International Criminal Court.
In their comments after his presentation, representatives of a number of countries also called for the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria to be sent to the ICC, as did Human Rights Watch.
But Faysal Khabbaz Hamouia, a representative of the Syrian government, slammed the report as inaccurate and biased.
He also charged that the international community was stoking the flames of the conflict, while 17 countries were sending "jihadist terrorists" to fight for the "fragmentation of the Middle East into Islamic emirates."
The Human Rights Council may vote on the issue next week, in a first step towards eventually bringing those responsible for the atrocities in Syria to justice.
But before any trials could take place, agreement would be needed from the Security Council -- for which consensus on the matter appears all but impossible.
But Pinheiro cautioned perpetrators of atrocities in the country against thinking they could act with impunity.
"We have collected an extraordinary body of evidence," he said, reiterating his commission's findings that war crimes and crimes against humanity were being committed in Syria.
Since the commission was created a year ago, it has held more than 1,100 interviews with perpetrators and victims in the conflict, but has not been able to actually visit Syria -- a fact that Pinheiro lamented Monday.
"Until now we have not been able to convince the (Syrian) authorities of the benefits of this access," he said.
The probe did not spare rebel fighters, who it said had committed war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture.
But while calling for the Security Council to take action, Pinheiro stressed Monday that his commission would not make the names on its list of suspected war criminals public, citing the commission's lower standard of proof as compared to a court of law.
Overall, the death toll from the conflict has risen to more than 27,000 people, according to the Observatory, which relies on activist accounts from the ground. The United Nations puts the toll at 20,000.