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Report Says Syrian Forces Have Killed 256 Children

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An independent commission has released a blistering human rights report that says Syria's security forces have carried out widespread abuses against protesters, including murder and torture.

The commission, appointed by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, based its report on interviews with more than 220 witnesses or victims of abuse by Syrian security forces. The panel says it collected a solid body of evidence and identified patterns of human rights violations.

Panel chairman, Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil, said excessive force was used against unarmed protesters and even children in several cities. He said the report concluded that by early November, at least 256 children had been killed by government forces since the uprising began in March.

"Torture, sexual violence and ill treatment were inflicted on civilians suspected of sympathy with the protests, regardless of their gender or age," he said. "The gruesome and extreme nature of torture methods that we describe in the report were used by security force and in numerous cases resulted in death."

A Syrian soldier who defected from the army said he saw a 2-year-old girl shot by a member of Syria's security force who said he didn't want her to grow up to be a demonstrator. There were accounts of boys being raped, one in front of his father. A former detainee says he saw a 14-year-old boy tortured to death while in custody.

Firing On Unarmed Protesters

The report also detailed incidents of security forces opening fire on unarmed protesters, in some cases by snipers on rooftops. Pinheiro said the Syrian government committed crimes against humanity in their repression of peaceful demonstrators.

"The commission has also reached the conclusion that the widespread and systematic violations human rights in Syria could not have happened without the consent of the highest ranking state officials," he said.

Randa Slim, a scholar with the Middle East Institute, says the report should put to rest the government's claims that armed gangs — rather than Syrian security forces — committed the atrocities. But she says it's unlikely to stop the violence in the short term.

"I think the Syrian government has opted for what it's called the 'security option,' which means using force to bring this protest movement to an end," said Slim.

Radwan Ziadeh, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, says it shouldn't take the kind of violence laid out in the report to warrant international action against the Damascus government.

"I think the world should not allow this actually to happen again ... and this is why the international community should do something to help the Syrians," he said.

There has been some movement against the Syrian regime in the past week. The Arab League leveled sanctions against Syria and France called for the creation of humanitarian corridors to help civilians suffering from the crackdown.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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