The Syrian government may have committed crimes against humanity by using "lethal" force and "torturing" detainees in its crackdown on a 14-month uprising, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
In its annual report, the London-based human rights watchdog accused the government of President Bashar al-Assad of using "lethal and other excessive force against peaceful protesters."
"The pattern and scale of state abuses may have constituted crimes against humanity," Amnesty charged.
Reporting on the revolt which broke out in March last year, Amnesty described how regime forces deployed tanks in residential areas, shot dead peaceful protesters, detained thousands of people, used torture and held prisoners incommunicado.
"The authorities failed to conduct independent investigations into alleged unlawful killings, torture and other serious human rights violations," Amnesty said.
It said that while the UN Security Council referred Libya's Moamer Kadhafi to the International Criminal Court, it had failed to do the same with Assad.
This was despite "compelling evidence that his forces were committing crimes against humanity," the report said.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
Citing an example of a detained protester, the group documented cases of torture, deaths in custody, discrimination against Syria's Kurdish minority and failure to investigate abuses during the crackdown.
"The body of Tariq Ziad Abd al-Qadr, who was arrested on 29 April (2011), was returned to his family in Homs in June bearing numerous injuries," the report said.
"There were apparent electricity burns on his neck and penis, other burns on his body, marks apparently caused by whipping, and stab wounds in his side," Amnesty said.
Other examples cited by the report included the case of an unidentified man in the Mediterranean coastal city of Banias, who was detained for three days, beaten, stripped and forced to "lick his own blood off the floor."
Children were not spared, the report said, citing the case of Mohammad al-Mulaa Esa, 14, from eastern Deir Ezzor. He was reportedly shot dead by security forces for refusing to participate in a pro-government march.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 12,000 people have been killed since the uprising began, most of them civilians.
Amnesty also criticised reforms launched by Assad last year, including the lifting of emergency law and the abolition of the Supreme State Security Court.
While the reforms were a step forward, they "failed to provide effective guarantees for freedom of expression and association," Amnesty said.