Syrian troops 'killed 250 children'
Syrian security forces have killed at least 256 children since the onset of protests against President Bashar al-Assad, including a two-year-old girl who was shot dead to prevent her from "growing into a demonstrator", according to United Nations investigators.
The most authoritative inquiry into Syria's violence has uncovered "gross human rights violations" amounting to "crimes against humanity".
The UN commission of inquiry, established by the Human Rights Council in August, disclosed atrocities committed by Mr Assad's forces.
Children appear to have been singled out, with some being tortured "to death" in custody.
Others suffered serious sexual violence. One witness told the investigation that he saw a "15-year-old boy being raped in front of his father". Another testified that he witnessed the rape of an 11-year-old boy "by three security services officers".
A male student told the commission that he was "subjected to sexual violence in detention".
The two-year-old girl was shot dead on August 13 by a military officer, according to the report. It said 256 children had been "killed by state forces" by November 9.
Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights lawyer, said the British government should respond by urging Syria's referral to the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council.
"That would be the next logical step, short of armed intervention," he said.
The UN commission, chaired by Brazilian lawyer Paulo Pinheiro, conducted its work in Geneva without co-operation from the Assad regime.
"Torture, sexual violence and ill-treatment were inflicted on civilians suspected of sympathy with protests, regardless of their gender or age," said Mr Pinheiro.
Alistair Burt, Britain's Foreign Office minister responsible for the Middle East, said the report "highlights the horrific and shocking actions carried out by the Assad regime against its own civilian population".
Syria has been shunned by the Middle East's leading powers, with the Arab League imposing economic sanctions on Sunday. Lebanon broke with the consensus yesterday, saying it would not enforce measures against its neighbour.
Walid al-Muallem, Syria's foreign minister, said the security forces had been subjected to countless "atrocities" themselves committed by "armed gangs". (© Daily Telegraph, London)