GENEVA - A growing body of evidence collected by U.N. investigators points to the involvement of senior Syrian officials, including President Bashar Assad, in crimes against humanity and war crimes, the U.N.'s top human rights official said Monday.
"They've produced massive evidence," she told a news conference. "They point to the fact that the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state."
But Pillay said the lists of suspected criminals are handed to her on a confidential basis and will remain sealed until requested by international or national authorities for a "credible investigation," and then possibly used for prosecution.
Pillay said she worries about striking the right balance in determining how long to keep the information secret. The lists "rightly belongs to the people who suffered violations," she said, but they also must be kept sealed "to preserve the presumption of innocence" until proper judicial probes can be done that could lead to trial.
Pillay and the four-member U.N. panel on Syria war crimes chaired by Brazilian diplomat and scholar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has previously said Assad's government and supporters and the rebels who oppose them have committed heinous war crimes during the nearly 3-year-old civil war in Syria that has killed more than 100,000 people.
But this time, Pillay specifically referred to the president - though she was careful to say she hadn't singled him out as a possible suspect on the secret lists.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was dismissive of Pillay's remarks.
"She has been talking nonsense for a long time and we don't listen to her," he told The Associated Press in The Hague.
Earlier Monday, Mekdad told reporters at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons his country needs armored vehicles and other resources to move chemicals out of Syria for destruction.
Mekdad had delivered a speech at the OPCW's annual Conference of the States Parties, condemning "terrorists" in Syria for using chemical weapons while not acknowledging any use of such weapons by the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The reason Mekdad was talking at the meeting was the West blaming Assad's forces for unleashing a sarin nerve agent attack on a Damascus suburb in August.
Meanwhile, Pillay said Syria and North Korea - the two countries being probed by a U.N. investigative panel - represent two of the world's worst human rights violators, but she also cited concerns with Central African Republic, Bangladesh and other regions.
Other places that require the world's attention, she said, are the large-scale expulsions of migrants from Saudi Arabia, the high number of migrant laborer deaths building World Cup stadiums in Qatar, and continuing political exploitation of xenophobia and racism in Europe and other developed regions.