Syrian Government Policy of Enforced Disappearance a Crime Against Humanity: UN Investigators

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Dec. 19, 2013 – The Syrian government is continuing its policy of enforced disappearance that started in March 2011 when protests against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad erupted and the spread and pattern of this abuse amounts to a crime against humanity, UN investigators probing human rights violations in Syria concluded in their latest report.

Enforced disappearance has been used to silence the opposition, as a form of reprisal or punishment and as a tactic of war, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry said in the report released on Thursday which covers March 2011 to Nov. 2013.

It cites instances of doctors being disappeared for providing medical services in oppositions controlled areas and injured civilians in FSA-controlled areas being disappeared when they seek treatment at government hospitals.

“The violation of enforced disappearance is often a gateway to the commission of other offences, most particularly torture,” the report says.

It adds that there is a deliberate government policy of not providing information to family members of those detained and those inquiring are often themselves then detained.

“The truth regarding the fate of the many disappeared in Syria and the extent of the phenomenon of enforced disappearance will likely only fully be grasped in the aftermath of the conflict,” the report says. “The victims of this violation number far beyond the individuals disappeared. The families and loved ones of those disappeared endure a mental anguish that amounts to a further violation of their human rights.”

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that enforced disappearances were committed by Government forces, as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, and therefore amount to a crime against humanity,” the report concludes.

The full report is here

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Horrific Abuses Against Syrian Children – U.N. Inquiry

Feb. 18, 2013 – Almost half of Syria’s population is under the age of 18 and they are bearing the brunt of the violence in the conflict that is now entering its third year.

Accounts of the killing, rape, torture and detention of minors as well as attacks on schools and hospitals are documented in the latest report from the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria, which was released on Monday and covers the six months from mid-July 2012 to mid-January 2013.

“Children of both sexes have been unlawfully killed and wounded; they have been subjected to, and possibly singled out for, sexual violence,” the report says. “They have been subjected to other forms of torture in detention facilities, checkpoints and during military and security force operations.”

The CoI says it has “documented a substantial number of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks, and disproportionate attacks” that have resulted in the death and injury to children, including “attacks on refugee camps, bakeries, schools, village houses and other everyday locales” by government forces using artillery and air power.

Children as young as twelve, and in one case as young as eight, have been held in adult detention centers, where they have been tortured and deprived of adequate food and water, according to people interviewed by the CoI.

A 14-year-old boy told the Inquiry that he was arrested after taking part in a protest outside his local mosque in early June: “He described being beaten with electric wire and a hosepipe while being hung, suspended from the ceiling; being burnt with cigarettes and hot metal; being hit in the face resulting in a broken nose; and being threatened with rape.” He was released in late October, the report says.

The UN investigators conducted 41 interviews in relation to sexual violence and “direct accounts were sought from victims and eyewitnesses.” They write that “there are particular difficulties in collecting evidence in cases of sexual violence against women and girls due to cultural, social and religious beliefs surrounding marriage and sexuality.”

In one case that the CoI has recorded, a girl whose mother had worked with the Free Syrian Army was abducted  by four men, two in military uniform, and taken to an unknown building for questioning.

The girl “described her kidnapping and rape in [location withheld] in December.” 

“During the interrogation, she was beaten with electrical wire, given injections, beaten and had cigarettes extinguished on her chest. She was denied food and water for extended periods of time. On the fifth day of her detention, four young men were brought into the room where they raped her,” the report states. 

“Two days later, she was released. Her father took her to a gynecologist outside Syria. In a separate interview, the doctor confirmed bruises, cigarette burns, injection marks on arms, and sexual injuries to the victim. This 14-year-old girl has tried to commit suicide three times, saying, ‘My life has no value. I lost everything, what has gone will never come back.’”

In another incident, a local resident told the UN investigators that a neighborhood in Homs was searched by Government security forces and Shabbiha in September.

“Security forces went from house to house detaining men. If men were not found in the house, the soldiers claimed they must be fighting with the FSA. The resident said that his aunt had been one of the women captured by Shabbiha along with between 40 and 50 other women from different streets and taken to a wedding hall in the town. He said women were raped, and daughters raped in front of their mothers. Some were kept for hours and others were kept for a few days with one woman kept up to 12 days.”

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald