A top U.N. human rights official accused Syria Thursday of engaging in crimes against humanity.
"They are both widespread and they are being committed in a systematic manner," said Ivan Simonovic, assistant secretary-general of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The situation, in at least parts of Syria, "has reached the threshold to be considered as an internal armed conflict," or civil war, he told CNNI's "Amanpour."
"From (an) international legal perspective, that means that, a part of crimes against humanity, there might be commission of war crimes as well."
Simonovic said members of a U.N. mission returned last week from the region. Though denied entrance to Syria, they interviewed witnesses in neighboring countries and learned that "the crimes are continuing," he said. "There is unselective shelling, there is deliberate targeting with live munition of protesters, there is systematic torture going on in prisons, and this is the torture of the worst possible form."
Simonovic added, "It includes physical torture as well as psychological threats -- threats such as raping members of family, direct torture involving putting people in the unnatural positions for a long time, torturing them by burning them, and so on and so on ... it's appalling."
He said his office was calling on "all sides" to stop the violence and for the government to release arbitrarily detained persons, as called for the by the six-point peace plan of joint U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan. "But this is not happening yet," he said. Though about 200 detainees have been released, thousands more remain in custody, he said. "For some of them, we cannot establish their whereabouts."
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