GENEVA - Public executions, amputations, lashings and mock crucifixion are a regular fixture in jihadist-controlled areas of Syria, a UN probe charged Wednesday, also accusing Damascus of repeatedly using chemical weapons against civilians.
"Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle on Fridays" in parts of Syria under control of the jihadist Islamic State (IS), the independent Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria said.
In its latest report, the four-member commission detailed a litany of horrors committed by IS, including the beheading of boys as young as 15, amputations and lashings in public squares as residents, including children, are forced to watch.
The group "seeks to destroy and remould humanity in its image, wreaking havoc on civilians, minorities and the basic freedoms of women and children," commission head Paulo Pinheiro told reporters in Geneva.
He described how bodies of those killed were placed on public display, "creating an atmosphere of fear and terror." IS, which declared a "caliphate" in an area spanning northern Iraq and eastern Syria, is also recruiting and training children as young as 10, with teens being used in active combat and suicide-bombing missions, the report said.
The jihadists, who sparked worldwide outrage last week when they released a video showing the beheading of US journalist James Foley, are guilty of widespread crimes against humanity in Syria, the commission said.
Pinheiro emphasised, though, that IS "does not have the monopoly of brutality in the Syrian conflict." In their 45-page report, covering the period from January 20 to July 15, Pinheiro and his colleagues also detailed a wide range of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian government and other armed opposition groups.
The government, which during the first years of the conflict was blamed for the lion's share of abuses and deaths, had since January continued to kill hundreds of men, women and children every week due to the "indiscriminate firing of missiles and barrel bombs into civilian areas", the report found.
Damascus using chemical weapons
It also said Damascus appeared to have dropped barrel bombs containing the chemical agent chlorine on civilian areas in the north on eight different occasions last April.
"Reasonable grounds exist to believe that chemical agents, likely chlorine, were used on (northern Syrian villages) Kafr Zeita, al-Tamana and Tal Minnis in eight incidents within a 10-day period in April," the report said.
President Bashar al-Assad's regime and rebels have both accused the other of using chemical agents, including chlorine, in the bloody uprising that began in March 2011 and in spite of Damascus promising to hand over all its chemical arms.
The commission, which was created three years ago by the UN Human Rights Council, lamented the "atmosphere of impunity" for all warring parties in Syria.
The investigators especially lashed out at the lack of international action to end the conflict estimated to have killed nearly 200,000 people.
"For three years, we have been gathering evidence against the perpetrators, and each day new crimes occur (yet) the international community does nothing," said commission member and legendary former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte.
"The international community as a whole, including the UN, is paralysed by the unwillingness of states to act to end the conflict," Pinheiro agreed.
They insisted that the only way to move towards an end of the conflict was for the UN's deadlocked Security Council to refer the Syrian crimes to the International Criminal Court.
The investigators, who have never been granted access to Syria, relying on interviews in the region and via Skype, as well as photographs and other documents to reach their conclusions, also stressed that their secret list of suspected perpetrators was getting longer by the day.
Del Ponte suggested that the Security Council name the four commissioners to prosecute the crimes.
"We are ready," she said.