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Islamic State (ISIS) militants have destroyed historic artefacts at a Mosul museum in Iraq.
The head of the UN agency for culture, UNESCO, has said the artefacts’ destruction is a war crime.
Irina Bokova said she was appalled by an act of “cultural cleansing”, calling for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the issue.
ISIS posted a video on February 26 appearing to show militants with sledgehammers smashing statues in a museum in Mosul.
Some of the artefacts date back to the 9th Century BC.
ISIS militants said the statues were “false idols” that had to be smashed.
At a news conference in Paris, Irina Bokova described the video as “a real shock”, saying she was simply unable to finish watching the footage.
“I was filled with dismay by images of the attack on the Mosul Museum,” she said.
In a statement, UNESCO stressed that under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime.
The statement added that Irina Bokova had already called on the ICC to launch an investigation.
She also announced the creation of a “global coalition against the illegal trafficking of cultural goods”, adding that it would meet in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the Louvre Museum in Paris said in a statement: “This destruction marks a new stage in the violence and horror, because all of humanity’s memory is being targeted in this region that was the cradle of civilization, the written word, and history.”
In the video released via ISIS social media sites, black-clad men push over statues, smash them with sledgehammers and use a pneumatic drill to destroy the rubble.
The video shows one man drilling through and pulling apart what appears to be a stone winged-bull, an Assyrian protective deity dating to the 7th Century BC.
One of the militants in the video seeks to justify their destruction in religious terms.
Analysts say the artefacts are unique and priceless, although the museum does also house copies of some items.
ISIS has controlled Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, since June 2014. The US military have said that an assault on the city by the Iraqi army could happen within months.
The region under ISIS control in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites.
The reported destruction of the statues follows recent reports that ISIS burnt down Mosul Library, which housed over 8,000 ancient manuscripts.
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UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said an inquiry has produced evidence that war crimes were authorized in Syria at the “highest level”, including by President Bashar al-Assad.
It is the first time the UN’s human rights office has so directly implicated Bashar al-Assad.
Navi Pillay said her office held a list of others implicated by the inquiry.
The UN estimates more than 100,000 people have died in the conflict.
UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said an inquiry has produced evidence that war crimes were authorized in Syria at the “highest level”, including by President Bashar al-Assad
The UN’s commission of inquiry into Syria has produced “massive evidence… [of] very serious crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity,” Navi Pillay said.
The evidence indicated responsibility “at the highest level of government, including the head of state”, she added.
The inquiry has also previously reported it has evidence that rebel forces in Syria have been guilty of human rights abuses.
Navi Pillay said the UN commission of inquiry had compiled a list of those believed to be directly responsible for serious human rights violations.
It is assumed that senior figures in the Syrian military and government are on that list.
However, the names and specific evidence relating to them remain confidential pending a possible prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
A UN report has confirmed “unequivocally and objectively” that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
The report says sarin gas was used in a rocket attack in the Syrian capital, Damascus, last month, although it has not attributed blame.
“This is a war crime,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
US allegations that the government was responsible led to threats of military action and then a US-Russia deal for Syria to make safe its chemical arms.
World powers will now try to hammer out a UN Security Council resolution.
Earlier, UN investigators said they were probing 14 alleged chemical attacks in Syria since September 2011.
Meanwhile, Turkey said it had shot down a Syrian helicopter close to its border. Deputy PM Bulent Arinc said the aircraft was engaged by fighter jets after violating Turkish air space.
Ban Ki-moon has been briefing the Security Council on the report, and is then expected to address the media.
He said he was submitting the UN mission’s report “with a heavy heart”.
“The mission has concluded that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in the Ghouta area of Damascus [on 21 August]… The attack resulted in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians.”
Ban Ki-moon spoke of the suffering of the victims.
UN report confirms sarin gas was used in a rocket attack in Damascus last month
“Survivors reported that following an attack with shelling, they quickly experienced a range of symptoms, including shortness of breath, disorientation, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and general weakness.
“Many eventually lost consciousness. First responders described seeing a large number of individuals lying on the ground, many of them dead or unconscious.”
The UN investigators examined many samples from the scene.
Ban Ki-moon said: “On the basis of its analysis, the mission concluded that it – and I quote – <<collected clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zalmalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus>>.”
Ban Ki-moon added: “I trust all can join me in condemning this despicable crime. The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable.”
He said the mission was unable to verify the number of casualties, but referred to the “terrible loss of life on 21 August”.
He added: “This is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988.”
Assigning blame for the attack in Ghouta was not part of the inspectors’ remit.
However, diplomats have suggested the way the facts are reported may point to the Syrian government as the perpetrators.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied allegations his government was behind the attack, instead blaming the rebels.
Earlier, Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said the commission had been investigating 14 alleged chemical attacks since it began monitoring Syrian human rights abuses in September 2011.
Paulo Pinheiro said investigators had not so far been able to assign blame and were awaiting details from Monday’s UN report.
He said the commission believed both President Assad’s government and the rebels were responsible for war crimes, but that the regime alone had perpetrated crimes against humanity.
War crimes, including mass executions, rape and torture, were continuing, the commission said.
Its investigators said a referral to the International Criminal Court was imperative.
French President Francois Hollande and his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier met British Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis.
The UN Security Council is expected to draft a resolution in the coming days.
The United Nations Organization says a video that appears to show Syrian rebels killing soldiers or pro-government militiamen could be evidence of a war crime.
The footage shows gunmen beating a group of prisoners cowering on the floor before opening fire at them.
It has been alleged that Islamist militants carried out the attack after seizing army checkpoints on Thursday.
Unconfirmed reports say troops have now quit all bases near the strategic northern town of Saraqeb.
The town lies near both the main Damascus-Aleppo highway and the highway linking Aleppo to the coastal city of Latakia – making it doubly strategic.
The army, meanwhile, continued its air strikes across Syria on Thursday.
In all, more than 150 people reportedly died in fighting, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group.
The SOHR said that among the victims were more than 70 government soldiers, 43 civilians and 38 rebels.
The claim has not been independently verified.
In a separate development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby would meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the Syrian crisis, the Arab League announced.
The alleged shootings took place after the rebels overran the strategic army checkpoints between on Thursday.
The video purportedly shows agitated rebels kicking and pushing the soldiers or pro-government militiamen, known locally as “shabiha”, to the ground inside one of the seized buildings. Shots are then seen fired into the cowering mass of bodies.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said it appeared that the victims “were no longer combatants and therefore, at this point, it looks very like a war crime”.
Spokesman Rupert Colville added that the video – if proved to be genuine – would almost certainly form part of a future prosecution.
Meanwhile, Amnesty said in a statement: “This shocking footage depicts a potential war crime in progress, and demonstrates an utter disregard for international humanitarian law by the armed group in question.”
No group has so far admitted carrying out the alleged killings.
However, a rebel fighter from Idlib province, Abu Abdul Rahim, told the Guardian that a Salafi-jihadist group was behind the killings, which he said had occurred in al-Nayrab, to the west of Saraqeb.
He said the Salafists of the Dawood brigade and Suqur al-Sham did not answer to any military council affiliated to the rebel Free Syrian Army.
For months, activists have reported similar summary executions by government forces virtually every day.
But there has been mounting evidence of similar tactics being used by some rebel groups too, although many have signed a code of practice banning such abuses.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier warned that radical Islamist fighters were trying to hijack the Syrian revolution.
The comments have drawn an angry response from some opposition leaders, who say that it is the failure of the outside world to support the uprising with practical help that has left the field open to the radicals.
The SOHR more than 36,000 people have been killed since protests against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011.
The SOHR is one of the most prominent organizations documenting and reporting incidents and casualties in the Syrian conflict. It says its reports are impartial, though its information cannot be independently verified.
Recent alleged rebel atrocities
• 22 June – Damascus accuses ‘terrorists’ of killing 25 villagers in northern Syria and mutilating their bodies
• 6 July – footage shows a rebel questioning a soldier before shooting him – location unknown
• 1 August – four apparent Assad loyalists are seen put against the wall and shot in public in Aleppo
• 14 August – rebels are shown in a video throwing dead bodies of government snipers from an Aleppo roof
• 17 September – armed opposition groups are accused by Human Rights Watch of torturing and summarily executing detainees in Aleppo, Latakia, and Idlib