The United Nations’ top human rights official has linked Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and members of his inner circle to crimes against humanity and war crimes, citing evidence collected by her panel of investigators.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in early December that an inquiry into rights violations committed during 33 months of brutal conflict has produced “massive evidence” that war crimes in Syria were authorised at the “highest level”, including by the president. 

The accusations mark the first time the UN’s human rights office has so directly implicated Al-Assad in crimes committed during Syria’s civil war, which has killed an estimated 126,000 people, according to new figures released by UK-based monitoring group, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Pillay said both sides in the conflict had committed human rights violations but that those by the Syrian government were on a much bigger scale.