The United Nations' human rights chief says her office has found "massive evidence" indicating a link between war crimes committed in Syria and the "highest level of government," in the country, including Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The evidence, which Navi Pillay says will remain sealed until international or national authorities request it, was announced on the same day that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released an updated death toll for the country: at least 125,835 have died in Syria's civil war, including at least 6,627 children.
Pillay cited a U.N. inquiry into human rights violations in the country, explaining that the body "produced massive evidence ... (of) very serious crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity," adding that "the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state."
The U.N.'s statement, no doubt, will be closely watched in the context of upcoming peace talks planned for January 22nd in Geneva. Bashar al-Assad's government has agreed to attend the talks, but reportedly will not consider the main demand of the disparate opposition groups: the dissolution of his government, and his resignation. Instead, according to a foreign ministry official cited by Syrian media, the Assad delegation will focus on "eliminating terrorism." The opposition groups are also facing their own internal issues. The Washington Post explains those divides in more detail:
Damascus-based opposition groups call members of the [Syrian National Coalition, the main exile opposition group] traitors for demanding U.S. military airstrikes against Syria following a chemical weapons attack in August that killed hundreds. But groups known as the “internal opposition” are themselves seen as aging and submissive to Assad’s government, incapable of playing an effective opposition role for fear of arrest. More importantly, the rebel factions that hold the real power on the ground won’t go to Geneva. Some of the most powerful Islamic brigades have distanced themselves from the coalition.
Opposition groups also doubt the motives of Assad's willing participation in an effort to rid the country of chemical weapons. While Syria has more or less met its tight deadlines under the agreement so far, the plan faces substantial skepticism and obstacles. For instance: the U.S. might end up destroying some of the country's chemical weapons stockpile at sea, because no country has willingly agreed to carry out the task on its own soil.