Geneva, 27 August 2014 – Mass atrocities by Government forces and non-State armed groups continue to take place in Syria, causing immeasurable suffering to civilians, according to a UN report released today. The report stated that the continuous influx of foreign fighters and the success of extremist groups – such the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham – were among the factors which had contributed to a spillover of violence affecting international peace and stability. “Risks of the conflict spreading further are palpable”, it emphasized.
The report, based on 480 interviews and a wealth of documentary material, chronicles the unimaginable brutality and human cost of the Syrian conflict. Fighting has engulfed civilian areas, destroying the barest possibility of normal life. The impact has been particularly grave for women and children, whose most basic rights are being infringed daily. “Hundreds of civilians are dying each day as the fighting goes on with no regard to law or to conscience,” said Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission.
In areas of Syria under ISIS control, particularly in the north and northeast of the country, Fridays are regularly marked by executions, amputations and lashings in public squares. Civilians, including children, are urged to watch. Bodies of those killed are placed on display for several days, terrorizing the local population. Women have been lashed for not abiding by ISIS’s dress code. In Ar-Raqqah, children as young as 10 are being recruited and trained at ISIS camps. ISIS has forcibly displaced Kurdish communities in northern Syria. Journalists and other media workers are systematically targeted.
The Commission reports that “members of ISIS have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Aleppo and Ar-Raqqah governorates including acts of torture, murder, enforced disappearances and forcible displacement.” “ISIS poses a clear and present danger to civilians, and particularly minorities, under its control in Syria and in the region,” Pinheiro warned.
Other non-State armed groups continue to commit violations, including summary executions and shelling deliberately targeting civilians. Many of these killings are massacres, as defined by the commission. Homs city has been rocked by over a dozen car bombs since this April. Jabhat Al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for some of these attacks. Armed groups continue to shell Government-controlled areas of Aleppo and Damascus, causing civilian deaths and injuries.
The Government continues to commit violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, with impunity. Between January and July, hundreds of men, women and children were killed every week by the Government’s indiscriminate firing of missiles and barrel bombs into civilian-inhabited areas. In some instances, there is clear evidence that civilian gatherings were deliberately targeted, constituting massacres, as detailed in annex IV of the report.
The Commission reports that Government soldiers at checkpoints prevented injured civilians from reaching hospitals. Hospitals in restive areas continue to be targeted and Government forces refused to allow aid deliveries of essential medicines and surgical supplies. Humanitarian aid continued to be obstructed as a weapon of war. In Government prisons, detainees were subjected to horrific torture and sexual assault. The methods employed and conditions of detention support the commission’s long-standing findings of systematic torture and mass deaths of detainees.
The report also states that, in April and May, Government forces used chemical agents, likely chlorine, in eight separate incidents in western Syria. Children are increasingly recruited by non-State armed groups and by the Government’s Popular Committees to participate in hostilities and provide support. The breakdown of family and community networks, often due to the death or disappearance of men, has left women and girls vulnerable and primarily responsible for the care of their families. This vulnerability persists even in their lives as refugees, with sexual violence and child marriage on the rise in certain camps.
Some states continue to deliver mass shipments of arms, artillery and aircraft to the Syrian Government, or contribute with logistical and strategic assistance. Other states, organizations and individuals support armed groups with weapons and financial support. The weapons they transfer to the warring parties in Syria are used in the perpetration of war crimes and violations of human rights. The Commission has recommended the imposition of an arms embargo and called on the international community to curb the proliferation and supply of weapons.
“The international community’s failure in its most elemental duties – to protect civilians, halt and prevent atrocities and create a path toward accountability – has been matched on the ground by an abandonment of even the pretense of an adherence to norms of international law. As can be seen today, this has grave implications for the entire region,” the report adds.
“Accountability must be part of any future settlement, if it is to result in an enduring peace. Too many lives have been lost and shattered,” stated Pinheiro.
This report marks the third anniversary of the establishment of the commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. The commission, established on 22 August 2011, comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, Ms. Carla del Ponte and Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn and has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law. The Commission has also been tasked with investigating allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and its mandate was recently expanded to include “investigations of all massacres.”