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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Targeted Abuse of Civilians on Rise by Syria's Warring Parties

By Lisa Schlein September 15, 2020

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said civilians increasingly are being subjected to targeted abuse by all warring parties. The commission's report, which documents violations during the first half of this year, will be submitted to the U.N. Human Council later this month.

Large-scale hostilities in the decade-long conflict have declined since a cease-fire took effect March 5. While fighting among the armed groups is dwindling, their aggression involving the civilian population is on the rise.

In its 25-page report, the three-member Commission of Inquiry documents dozens of different types of violations in scores of incidents affecting tens of thousands of victims. The report said violations continue to be employed, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and deaths in custody.

At the same time, chair of the commission, Paulo Pinheiro, said newer forms of violations, including targeted killings, looting and appropriation of property, are increasing in numbers and carry sectarian undertones.

"Across government-held areas, we documented 45 cases of enforced disappearances, 13 cases of torture and 19 deaths in detention," Pinheiro said. "They are continuing to repress people by placing them in incommunicado detention and in horrid conditions, and torturing them, amounts to crimes against humanity."

While Syrian government forces are responsible for most violations against civilians, the report notes none of the armed groups has clean hands. For example, it says the Syrian National Army, a Turkish-backed rebel group in the northern city of Afrin, may have committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, torture and rape.

U.N. Commissioner Hanny Megally told VOA there has been an alarming increase in rapes, sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls.

"In the past, we were reporting on sexual and gender-based violence being used to intimidate and get forced confessions, to force people to hand themselves in, etc. We are worried now," Megally said. "We are seeing this is being used to instill fear and it is being used against particular groups."

The U.N. investigators said the report covers just a small fraction of the violations suffered by Syrian civilians. They said the report shows the same patterns of violence and human rights abuse, which prompted the protests in 2011 and sparked the conflict, now are being practiced by all the armed groups.

The three-member commission adds all those who have blood on their hands must be held accountable for their crimes.

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