UN Probe Finds Uptick in Fighting, War Crimes 10 Years Into Syrian Conflict
By Lisa Schlein September 14, 2021
A U.N. investigative body finds what it calls, an alarming upsurge in fighting and violence, with some incidents amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, ten years into Syria's civil war. The report by the U.N. Syria Commission of Inquiry will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The group began investigating alleged violations of international human rights law in Syria in August 2011, five months after civil war broke out. The three-member panel now says conditions in Syria look increasingly bleak.
It reports fighting and violence have been intensifying in recent months in the northwest, northeast and south of the country. It reports civilians are having difficulty finding a haven in this war-torn country.
Commission member Hanny Megally said the lull in hostilities in northwestern Idlib province, brought about by a March 2020 ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey, has ended.
Megally said it began unraveling with increased Syrian and Russian air strikes and shelling of this last rebel held territory.
"In terms of the crimes, the aerial attacks, and bombardments, they were hitting civilian objects - schools, hospitals, marketplaces, etc," Megally said. "Detentions, torture in detention, deaths in custody, sexual, gender-based violence. Unfortunately, even cases of rape."
The report finds several areas are under siege by pro-government forces, trapping thousands of civilians without enough food or health care. The investigators also accuse the terrorist organization Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham of imposing restrictions on media and freedom of expression in areas under its control in the northwest.
The commission accuses the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces of unlawfully interning thousands of women and children in camps across northeast Syria.
Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro said one of the most scandalous features is the situation of an estimated 40,000 children held in Al Hawl and other camps.
Pinheiro said nearly half are Iraqi, while 7,800 come from nearly 60 other countries. He said only some 1,000 foreign children have been released and brought home. Most foreign children, he notes remain deprived of their liberty because their home countries refuse to repatriate them.
"Most are under 12 years old. No one accused them of crimes," Pinheiro said. "Yet, for over three years, they have been held in horrifying conditions â€¦ Protection can never mean indefinite detention of children. The first remedy for an unlawful detention is release. Punishing children for the sins of their parents cannot be justified."
U.N. and international agencies estimate Syria's decade-long war has killed about a half million people and forcibly displaced 13.5 million, both internally and as refugees in neighboring countries.
The U.N. Commission said it is not safe for refugees to return to Syria given the upsurge in violence and human rights violations, the unstable political situation, the plummeting economy, and fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
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