UN investigators on Tuesday denounced the seemingly deliberate targeting of civilians in Syria's war, causing "unspeakable suffering" as barrel bombs relentlessly drop from the sky and besieged people starve to death.
"Civilians are the main victims of an ever-accelerating cycle of violence," Paulo Pinheiro, who heads a commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria, told the UN Human Rights Council.
"The warring parties' failure to protect civilians, as well as their seemingly deliberate decision to put civilians in harm's way, has led to unspeakable suffering," he said.
Pinheiro voiced particular outrage over the "devastating effect" of sieges by government forces, anti-regime armed groups and the Islamic State jihadists.
In a document published Tuesday, covering abuses committed in Syria from March 15 to June 15, the commission warned the sieges were leading to "extreme deprivations for months, sometimes years."
The government sieges on the Yarmuk camp in Damascus, as well as on eastern Ghouta and Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, "have been ongoing for more than two years and have resulted in civilians starving to death," Pinheiro said, pointing out that nearly half of children in Yarmouk were malnourished.
"The denial and obstruction of food and other items indispensable to the survival of the civilian population aims to force restive areas into submission, as part of the government's strategy of 'surrender or starve'," he said.
Opponents of the government had also imposed sieges around the towns of Nubul and Zahra in Aleppo, and also Fouaa and Kafria in Idlib, leaving the people trapped inside in a dire situation, with little food and scarce access to clean water.
Pinheiro also decried the indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, by all sides, but pointed out that the government, "with its superior firepower and control of the skies inflicts the most damage."
The use of barrel bombs, including on places where civilians are likely to gather like marketplaces, bus stations and bakeries, has killed multitudes of innocent men, women and children, the investigators said, demanding that those responsible be brought to justice.
"Those in command of the bases and airstrips where helicopters are loaded and from where they take off must be held accountable, as well as those who work in the manufacture of these weapons," they said.
More than 230,000 people have been killed and some 10 million have fled their homes, including nearly four million Syrians who have become refugees since the conflict began in March 2011.
Pinheiro warned there was no relief in sight.
"With each passing day, there are fewer safe places in Syria, as evidenced by the mass displacement of civilians within and out of the country," he said, lamenting that "everyday decisions, like whether to visit a neighbour, to go out to buy bread, have become potentially decisions about life and death.