Syria authorities target children, says UN rights chief
Syrian authorities are systematically detaining and torturing children, the United Nations' human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has told the BBC.
She said she was deeply concerned about the fate of hundreds of children being held in detention.
Ms Pillay said President Bashar al-Assad could end the detentions and stop the killing of civilians immediately, simply by issuing an order.
Syria has accepted a peace plan, amid scepticism about its intentions.
The peace plan was put forward by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Navi Pillay told the BBC that the Syrian leader would face justice for the abuses carried out by his security forces.
Asked if President Assad bore command responsibility for the abuses, she said: "That is the legal situation. Factually there is enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces [and] must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level.
"Because President Assad could simply issue an order to stop the killings and the killings would stop."
Ms Pillay said she believed that the UN Security Council had enough reliable information to warrant referring Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Before taking up her UN role as high commissioner for human rights, she served as a judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the tribunal investigating the Rwandan genocide.
As a lawyer of more than 45 years experience Mrs Pillay has learned to choose her words carefully. That is why her forthright comments on President Bashar al-Assad will arouse interest.
"I feel that investigation and prosecution is a crucial element to deter and call a stop to these violations," she said.
She listed what she called "horrendous" treatment of children during the unrest.
"They've gone for the children - for whatever purposes - in large numbers. Hundreds detained and tortured... it's just horrendous.
"Children shot in the knees, held together with adults in really inhumane conditions, denied medical treatment for their injuries, either held as hostages or as sources of information."
Ms Pillay said anyone who committed such violations would be held to account.
"There is no statute of limitations so people like [Mr Assad] can go on for a very long time but one day they will have to face justice."
The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began a year ago.
Late on Tuesday, several Syrian dissident groups meeting in Istanbul agreed to recognise the Syrian National Council as the official representative of the Syrian people.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said President Bashar al-Assad would be judged by events.
The BBC's Jonathan Head at the gathering said none of the delegates he spoke to believed President Assad was sincere, and the Syrian opposition would never accept any deal allowing him to remain in power.
But our correspondent says their disunity was openly on display, with constant disputes and walkouts.
Earlier, a spokesman for Kofi Annan said he considered the Syrian acceptance of the six-point peace plan an "important initial step" but that implementation was key.
Mr Annan - currently in Beijing for talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao - has written to President Assad urging him to put his commitments into immediate effect.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said President Assad would be judged by events.
"Given Assad's history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions," she said.
"If he is ready to bring this dark chapter in Syria's history to a close he can prove it by immediately ordering regime forces to stop firing and begin withdrawing from populated areas," she added.
However, there were reports of further violence on Wednesday.
London-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that government forces backed by tanks had stormed the central town of Qalaat al-Madi at dawn, following a 17-day barrage.
A local activist told AFP news agency that fighters with the rebel Free Syrian Army had withdrawn from the area.
The six-point plan calls for Mr Assad's government to remove troops and heavy weapons from population centres and for all parties to allow a daily two-hour ceasefire for humanitarian aid to reach affected areas. The plan also requests that authorities release those detained in the uprising.
However, it does not impose any deadline for Mr Assad, or call for him to leave power.
The BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN says that, despite the scepticism, this is a new situation because it is the first strategy for ending the conflict that has the backing of the entire Security Council, including Syria's allies Russia and China.
She says it seems it was this international unity which forced President Assad to accept the plan. - Zodiak Online
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