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A portrait of Syria's president is set alight by anti-Assad protesters in Cairo on Saturday. AP Photo/Amr Nabil/PA Images

Children tortured, killed during Syrian regime's crackdown: UN

UN Human Rights Council says its investigation into human rights abuse claims has found that at least 256 children were killed and that some were tortured to death.

THE UNITED NATIONS has released a report accusing Syria’s security forces of committing hundreds of crimes against humanity throughout the government’s crackdown on political dissent.

Protests inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt began in mid-March in Syria, calling on President Bashar Assad to introduce a range of reforms.

The report published today by the UN Human Rights Council found that at least 256 children were killed by government forces between the start of the unrest in March and early November. It also said that some of those killed had been tortured.

“Torture was applied equally to adults and children,” the report said.

The independent panel which compiled the report was not allowed into Syria to investigate claims of human rights abuses, but said it interviewed 223 victims and witnesses to abuses, some of whom outlined cases of sexual assault against men and boys who were in custody: ”Numerous testimonies indicated that boys were subjected to sexual torture in places of detention in front of adult men.”

It also said it had received “many reports on the use of schools as detention facilities and on the deployment of snipers on the roofs of schools”, and that the panel behind the report had met with several children whose mental health was being “seriously affected by their traumatic experience”.

The panel said a two-year-old girl was allegedly shot dead by an army officer to prevent her growing up to become a protester. It added that the government forces were given ‘shoot to kill’ orders when tackling demonstrations.

The panel’s chairman Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said it has built up a “very solid body of evidence” of crimes allegedly committed by Syrian forces that include murder, torture, rape and “other forms of sexual violence”.

The group also issued a clear plea to the Syrian government to immediately halt its violent crackdown on civilians:

The commission is gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed in different locations in the Syrian Arab Republic during the period under review. It calls upon the government of the Syrian Arab Republic to put an immediate end to the ongoing gross human rights violations, to initiate independent and impartial investigations of these violations and to bring perpetrators to justice.

Syria is coming under increasing international pressure and criticism over the treatment of protesters, 3,500 of whom have died since the demonstrations began. However, despite that pressure and increasing international sanctions, activists in Syria report that Assad’s regime continues to try to stem political unrest with violence.

- Additional reporting by the AP

Read more: Arab League approves unprecedented sanctions on Syria >

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