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Mass scale torture and murder, 'extermination' by Syrian security agencies, finds UN report -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: A new UN report has documented torture and murder in Syria's detention centres on a "mass scale".

The report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria says the government's security agencies are involved in "extermination", which is a "crime against humanity".

Middle East correspondent Matt Brown reports from Gaziantep, near Turkey's border with Syria.

MATT BROWN: The report is a chilling insight into the maelstrom of abuse behind the bombings and shootings of the Syrian civil war.

The UN investigators gathered accounts from more than 500 people who've been detained in Syrian government detention centres over the past five years.

Almost all described being victims of or witness to torture - 200 of them witnessed at least one death in custody.

The conditions in government detention centres are so inhumane, some detainees simply starve to death - they die from untreated wounds and diarrhoea.

Many others die while being tortured.

In short, the centres are an extermination machine.

The head of the UN's independent inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro.

PAULO PINHEIRO: The mass scale of deaths of detainees suggests that the government of Syria is responsible for acts that amount to extermination, as a crime against humanity, because these deaths are brought about in pursuance of a state policy to attack the civilian population.

MATT BROWN: Most of the victims are men, but the scene was set at the start of the peaceful uprising five years ago when government forces detained children who'd painted anti-government graffiti on their local school at Dara'a.

In the protests that followed, they detained and mutilated a 13 year old boy. Since then, children as young as seven have died in custody.

The report does not make easy reading, but it documents serious claims against the Syrian government - a man who bled out over three days after interrogators mutilated his genitals, an elderly man hung from the wrists, his eyes burned with cigarettes, his body pierced with a heated metal rod.

In a key claim the report alleges this is all part of a system - a system where multiple security agencies detain people, transfer them then torture them, and officials issue death certificates claiming the victims died of natural causes.

And the report says responsibility for the system extends from detention centre managers to their civilian bosses.

It's been more than a year since the inquiry implicated Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in crimes against humanity.

Now its report has detailed a system of abuse that extends through the root and branch of his security establishment - a whole section of the Syrian government that could face prosecution if they're ever brought before the International Criminal Court. They'll resist that to the bitter end.

And, they're not alone. The savagery of the Islamic State group is well known and detailed in the report.

The Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabat al-Nusra is also accused, and Paulo Pinheiro says more moderate rebel forces are implicated in similar abuse.

PAULO PINHEIRO: They have help government soldiers and members of rival armed groups in makeshift detention centres where they are ill-treated and executed or die after being tortured.

MATT BROWN: The inquiry found that for most of the many rebel factions there was no evidence that these abuses are organised, committed as a matter of policy.

But remember, the rebels aren't as organised and don't document detentions in the same way the government does, and as well as torturing and executing prisoners there's evidence some have died from a lack of medicine and medical care.

No-one will want to face a day of reckoning for these crimes, and in the absence of peace talks that all but guarantees they will continue.

This is Matt Brown in Gaziantep for AM.