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UN: Atrocities in Syria Escalate, Victims' Voices Go Unheard

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Children play in the town of Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border, March 2014. Syrian refugees in this border outpost were delighted to hear their home town of Azaz had been liberated from al-Qaida fighters who subjected them to a brutal regime.

FILE - Children play in the town of Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border, March 2014. Syrian refugees in this border outpost were delighted to hear their home town of Azaz had been liberated from al-Qaida fighters who subjected them to a brutal regime.

U.N. investigators say there is evidence of brutal crimes being committed in Syria by all warring factions. In its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria documents gross violations and mass atrocities perpetrated by the militant Islamic State, other armed groups and government forces against civilians.

In presenting the report, Commission of Inquiry Chairman Paulo Pinheiro cannot disguise his despair over the worsening war and massive atrocities taking place in Syria. He said he is particularly upset at the escalating scope and brutality of crimes being committed deliberately against the civilian population by all warring factions.

Statistics indicate some 200,000 people have been killed, and an estimated 9.5 million forcibly displaced, by the fighting. Pinheiro said it too often is forgotten that behind every one of these statistics is a person victimized by an unimaginable crime.

“Their voices shine a piercing light upon the brutal crimes being committed daily. They include a child injured in a missile attack on a school in Aleppo city, a man tortured in Damascus’ Mezzeh detention facility, and a pregnant woman left adrift after losing her husband and parents,” said Pinheiro.

Brutal crimes

Despite all their suffering, he said, these victims remain hopeful that their stories can prompt action to bring the war to an end. Pinheiro said, however, it appears few people are hearing their voices of anguish.

Pinheiro described the brutality of Islamic State, also known as ISIS. He cited massacres of civilians, the execution of hundreds of captured government soldiers, and the beheading of two journalists and an aid worker. He exposed the militants' cruelty toward women and their deliberate exposure of children to violence.

“Children are encouraged to attend executions. Later they wander past corpses displayed on crucifixes in public squares," said Pinheiro. "ISIS has prioritized the indoctrination of children. The group teaches children ideology under the guise of education, trains them in the use of weaponry and uses them to participate in hostilities.”

Pinheiro noted, though, that IS has no monopoly on violence. He said anti-government groups continue to commit crimes with no regard to international law. In the last two months, he said, they have launched attacks on villages in Hama and Al-Suweida, killing men, women and children.

But, he noted, they and IS are not the sole agents of death and destruction inside Syria. He holds the Syrian government mainly responsible for the majority of civilian casualties and killings. He accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of sanctioning multiple disappearances, torture, sexual abuse and killings.

The Syrian ambassador dismissed the commission’s report as being politicized and unprofessional. He said it is based on testimony and evidence from people heard outside Syria who are hostile to his government.

The U.N. investigators say they have a sealed database that contains the testimony of thousands of people demanding to be heard.

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