GENEVA: Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces have used chemical agents—most likely chlorine—in at least eight attacks this year and systematically committed massacres and other war crimes, while the Islamic State has perpetrated attacks on civilians that amount to crimes against humanity, a United Nations report said on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
The report issued by the UN Human Rights Council represented the latest measure of the brutality, depravity and carnage of Syria’s more than three-year civil war. It also delivered a stinging rebuke to the United States and other powers for giving up on trying to forge a negotiated resolution to the conflict that has claimed an estimated 191,000 lives.
“Influential states have turned away from the difficult work required for a political solution,” said the report. “Recent events emphasize the urgency of finding a political settlement to the war,” it added.
In a statement, Paulo Pinheiro, the chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said: “Hundreds of civilians are dying each day as the fighting goes on with no regard to law or to conscience.” Pinheiro, a Brazilian, also told reporters, “The international community has completely failed to protect civilians.”
Similarly, fellow commissioner Carla del Ponte, a Swiss, said: “In Syria, it’s total impunity. Crimes are committed each day from all parties.”
The 45-page report, which covers the period of January to July 14, said Syrian government forces had conducted offensive operations in April against civilian-inhabited areas of Idlib and Hama provinces in which witnesses smelled “a scent akin to domestic chlorine” after helicopters dropped barrels of explosives.
The accounts of victims and the medical personnel who treated them “provide descriptions of symptoms compatible with exposure to chemical agents, namely vomiting, eye and skin irritation, choking and other respiratory problems,” said the report.
Chlorine is defined as a chemical weapon under a 1992 international ban on the use of such weapons, and using it is a war crime under the treaty that created the International Criminal Court, the report said.
“Government forces continued to perpetrate massacres and conduct widespread attacks on civilians, systematically committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances amounting to crimes against humanity,” the report found.
Crimes by Islamic State
The Islamic State (IS), the extremist group that has overrun large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq, and other insurgent factions also committed war crimes, “including murder, extortion, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking,” and violations of international law such as recruiting children and rape, the report said.
The report accused IS fighters of committing crimes against humanity that included murder, torture, disappearances and forced evictions as part of an attack on civilians in Aleppo and Raqqa provinces.
Pinheiro warned the IS “poses a clear and present danger to civilians, particularly minorities, under its control in Syria and in the region.”
Executions in public spaces in these areas, the panel said, have become a common spectacle on Fridays.
“Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheadings or shooting in the head at close range. Bodies are placed on public display, often on crucifixes, for up to three days, serving as a warning to local residents,” it added.
Public squares in IS areas also have become “the scene of amputations, lashings and mock crucifixion.”
Moreover, the panel documents that it also received multiple accounts of women who had appeared in public with their faces uncovered “being beaten with sticks “ by patrolling IS fighters
The IS also is recruiting children into armed roles “some from the age of 10.” Then they’re trained at camps operated by the militants.