UN Syria Investigators Release Gruesome Witness Testimony

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Sept. 16, 2014 – Grave violations by all sides to the conflict in Syria were detailed in witness testimony released in Geneva Tuesday by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

These include attacks by government forces using barrel bombs filled with chlorine, executions and amputations by ISIS, enforced disappearance, and depraved detention facilities.

The 12 witness statements, out of a total of some 3,200 that the inquiry has collected, “demonstrate that few Syrians have been spared,” the investigators wrote in their introduction to the report of testimonies.

They said that “many of the victims interviewed remained hopeful that their stories can prompt the action and dialogue needed to bring this conflict to an end.”

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Inquiry: Syrians Live in World Where Everyday Decisions are Life and Death

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

June 17, 2014 – The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has conducted 3,000 interviews that collectively indicate “a massive number of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the chair of the inquiry told the Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Brazilian Sergio Pinheiro told the Council in his latest update that crimes are being committed daily against Syrian civilians and because of the Security Council’s failure to demand accountability “a space has been created for the worst of humanity to express itself.”

“Syrians live in a world where decisions about whether to go to the mosque for prayers, to the market for food and to send their children to school have become decisions about life and death.”

Pinheiro said the government continues to use barrel bombs causing widespread civilian casualties and, in particular, the city of Aleppo and towns in Dara’a countryside have come under “relentless assault.”

Armed groups have also shelled government-controlled areas of Aleppo and Damascus cities as well as towns in Latakia, he said, and in Homs city, more than a dozen car bombs have exploded in Shia and Armenian neighbourhoods since March.

“In many instances, these bombings appear to target civilians, an act designed to spread terror.”

While the Security Council passed Resolution 2139 in February demanding unhindered access for humanitarian supplies, it has not been complied with by government or anti-government forces.

“Food is confiscated at checkpoints, as women are harassed and arrested for attempting to bring bread into besieged areas,” the Brazilian diplomat said. “At one checkpoint on the only road from Zabadani to Damascus, a large banner reads ‘Kneel or Starve.'”

He said the war has had a devastating impact on Syria’s economy “inflicting harm on livelihoods and habitat from which few Syrian families have escaped unscathed” adding that this hardship has been compounded by economic sanctions.

Pinheiro said military supplies provided by states  to warring parties are “used in the perpetration of war crimes and violations of human rights.”

“States cannot claim to prioritize a political settlement, while their actions demonstrate that their priorities lie in military escalation.”

He concluded his presentation to the Council by reiterating his demand for accountability. “In Syria, the majority of the population are victims of the current conflict. They are entitled to expect, in spite of all they have suffered, that justice will not be denied to them.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Growing List of War Crimes in Syria

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

March 18, 2014 –  Summary executions, torture, starvation, sexual violence and the use of hospitals as headquarters are among the growing list of violations carried out by government and non-government forces in Syria, according to an update by the the Independent Commission of Inquiry (CoI) established by the UN Human Rights Council.

The update, presented to the Geneva-based Council on Tuesday, says that fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS) carried out summary executions of detainees in January and that ISIS, one of hundreds of non-state armed groups operating in the country, is using the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo as headquarters.

The report says that torture continues in government prisons and that there is a lack of food, causing death by starvation in some instances.

In a Military Intelligence branch in Damascus, detainees were harshly beaten, hung from the ceiling and walls, beaten with electric cables and subjected to psychological torture,” the report says. “One female detainee was locked in a room with dead bodies for three days.”

“Women were forced to strip and male officers performed intimate body searches,” the report states. “In Adra Central Prison, Damascus, pregnant detainees are suffering miscarriages, premature births and deaths of new-borns as a result of insanitary conditions and denial of medical treatment.”

The chair of the COI, Brazilian Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said the Commission has a list of perpetrators responsible for the crimes but lack a mechanism to bring those responsible to justice.

“We do not lack information on crimes or on perpetrators. What we lack is a means by which to achieve justice and accountability,” he said. “It is for the Security Council to make this pursuit of justice possible.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

China Says Abe’s War Shrine Visit Challenges Outcome of World War II

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Jan. 2, 2014 – China has accused Japan of seeking to clear the name of war criminals after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a shrine that honors the country’s war dead including senior officials convicted of the gravest war crimes.

Beijing’s UN mission in New York sent an email to reporters on Thursday stating China’s position on Abe’s visit, describing it as “a brazen challenge to all the victimized people in the Japanese militarist war of aggression and to the outcome of World War II and the post-war order.”

“Abe’s action is leading Japan down an extremely dangerous path and has gravely undermined regional peace and security,” the statement said.

It adds that the visit to the Yasukuni shrine “honors 14 Class-A war criminals of World War II as ‘heroes.’” Class A war criminals were those convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East of the planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression.

China, as one of the victors in World War II, was awarded one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Articles 53 and 107 of the UN Charter still refer to Japan and the other axis powers, Germany and Italy, as ‘enemy states.’

The full statement sent by China’s UN mission is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

(image/wikimedia)

China’s position on Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

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

UN Condemns Attack on Aleppo University

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More than 60,000 people have been killed in the past 22 months in Syria, according to the UN Human Rights Office 

Jan. 16, 2013 – Tuesday’s attack on the University of Aleppo has been condemned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who said deliberately targeting civilians or civilian institutions is a war crime.

Two explosions struck the university – one of Syria’s biggest – on the first day of exams, reportedly killing more than 80 people, and injuring 160.

“The secretary-general strongly condemns the appalling attack at Aleppo University yesterday, in which scores of people have been reported killed and wounded,” Ban’s office said in a statement Wednesday.

“Deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian targets constitutes a war crime. Such heinous attacks are unacceptable and must stop immediately,” the statement said.  “All combatting parties in Syria must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.”

Ban called “for a reflection by all Syrians about the degradation of a conflict that is tearing their nation apart, and stresses the urgent need for a peaceful political solution that ends the violence and meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people.”

The head of UNESCO has also condemned the attack.

“It is truly shocking and distressing to see so many young people dedicated to pursuing their education in the midst of strife lose their life to senseless violence,” Director-General Irina Bokova said Wednesday. “This is a dark day indeed for the entire country.” 

Aleppo University is Syria’s oldest institution of science and technology. The university has about 60,000 students. Tuesday’s explosions reportedly struck an area between the university’s halls of residence and the architecture faculty.

– Denis Fitzgerald