'Hope in sight' of end to Syria war: UN investigators
UN investigators on Tuesday welcomed a "significant decrease" in Syrian violence on the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict, saying they finally glimpsed hope of an end to the war.
"Now, for the first time, there is hope of an end in sight," Paulo Pinheiro, head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told reporters in Geneva.
Earlier, in remarks to the UN Human Rights Council, he hailed the partial ceasefire that has largely held since February 27, saying it had finally allowed many in the country to experience "a return to normalcy in their daily lives".
"There are, at last, glimpses of a Syria at peace," Pinheiro said, adding that the truce had created the conditions needed to move forward with the new round of peace talks that kicked off in Geneva on Monday.
The temporary ceasefire between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and opponents does not cover the Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front jihadist groups.
"We call on the parties to the cessation of hostilities agreement to discontinue all remaining military operations, even those on low-scale," Pinheiro said.
His comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered most of his forces out of Syria in a move hailed as "significant" by the UN's mediator in the talks, Staffan de Mistura.
Pinheiro said it remained unclear what impact the Russian pull-out would have, telling reporters: "We have to see what will happen in the next days."
But he hailed Putin's announcement, saying it showed "a very clear commitment... to support the negotiations".
- Accountability must start now -
Tuesday marked the fifth anniversary of the start of a conflict that has left more than 270,000 dead and forced millions to flee their homes.
Almost since the start of the war, the four-member Commission of Inquiry has detailed a litany of horrific abuses committed by all sides in Syria, including allegations of widespread war crimes and crimes against humanity.
While "heartened" by positive developments on the ground, Pinheiro warned that "serious violations continue to take place".
"Thousands are detained and tortured, many dying in places of detention. Countless numbers of people are still missing," he said.
IS jihadists continue to use suicide bombs in civilians areas, he added.
"Particularly horrifying is (IS's) continued sexual enslavement of Yazidi women and girls, over 3,000 who are still held by the terrorist group," he said.
The investigators have repeatedly demanded that perpetrators be brought to justice through "credible international or domestic proceedings."
Pinheiro stressed Tuesday that efforts to hold perpetrators accountable could not wait until a peace accord had been reached but should start "immediately".
He also called for the "unconditional and immediate release of all prisoners arbitrarily detained", including many women and children.
© 2016 AFP