News / Middle East

UN Commission Says Abuses Widespread in Syria

Paulo Pinheiro, chairperson of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria talks to media during a news conference in Geneva, Sept. 16, 2013.
Paulo Pinheiro, chairperson of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria talks to media during a news conference in Geneva, Sept. 16, 2013.
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Lisa Schlein
— The Commission of Inquiry on Syria calls the use of chemical weapons a war crime and says their alleged use is triggering a new urgency to bring an end to Syria’s 30-month-long civil war. The Commission has just submitted its latest findings of widespread violations in Syria to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The Commission of Inquiry says it hopes the U.S.-Russian agreement will result in Syria joining the Chemical Weapons Convention in mid-October, and will lead to a broader political resolution to the war.

In the meantime, commissioners say they are continuing to investigate 14 alleged chemical weapons attacks - four in March and April of this year - that may have occurred since the conflict broke out in March 2011.  They acknowledge their investigations are limited because the government will not grant them access to the country.

Chemical weapons

UN Report on Ghouta Attack

Conclusions
  • Chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale
  • Environmental, chemical and medical evidence provides clear evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing sarin were used

Evidence
  • Impacted and exploded surface-to-surface rockets were found to contain sarin
  • Close to rocket impact sites, the environment was found to contain sarin
  • Patients/survivors were diagnosed as intoxicated by an organophosphorous compound
  • Blood and urine samples from those patients were positive for sarin and sarin signatures

Source: UN
The commission says it recognizes the seriousness of the August 21 chemical attack in a Damascus suburb, which the United States says killed more than 1,400 people. Commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro noted that the vast majority of casualties, though, are the result of the unlawful use of conventional weapons.

Pinheiro told the U.N. Human Rights Council some of the worst atrocities were committed by both government and rebel forces. He accused government forces of indiscriminate shelling and bombardment. He said extremist rebel groups use methods of warfare to spread terror among the civilian population.

Pinheiro said there is evidence the government continues to drop cluster munitions on civilian areas. He said a government fighter jet dropped an incendiary bomb on a school near Aleppo last month, killing eight students and wounding 50 others.

“Many are not expected to survive. There is no evidence of any opposition or rebel fighters or lawful targets near the school... children make up a large proportion of civilian casualties. They have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured. Children have been unlawfully detained in cells with adult detainees," he said. "The government should take steps to release children from detention or to transfer them to a juvenile justice system consistent with both fair trial and children’s rights.”

Hospitals attacked

The commission accuses the government of deliberately attacking medical facilities and of denying treatment to the sick and wounded from opposition-controlled areas, but it says some opposition groups also have attacked medical personnel and hospitals.

Syrian Ambassador Faysal Khabbas Hamoui said the commission is exaggerating and relying on unverified reports. He said his government has sent more than 250 communications and documents to the commission, which it has ignored.

"It is deplorable for the commission to claim in its conclusions that the government is responsible for what it calls a number of massacres, and yet at the same time to say that the evidence and the circumstances around those massacres is not enough to determine the responsibility of the perpetrators," Hamoui said.

Pinheiro said the commission does not have the ability to refer the government of Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court. He said it is up to the U.N. Security Council to hold violators accountable for their actions.

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network shows anti-Syrian regime protesters hold a poster depicting U.S. President Barack Obama during a demonstration in Kafr Nabil, Idlib province, Sept. 20, 2013.
  • Children sit along a damaged street filled with debris in the besieged area of Homs, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • Debris is seen on the ground after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Myassar neighborhood of Aleppo, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • An injured man walks along a street after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Myassar neighborhood of Aleppo, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad shows a Syrian military tank on fire during clashes with Free Syrian army fighters in Joubar, a suburb of Damascus, Sept. 18, 2013.
  • A member of the Shohadaa Badr Brigade, which operates under the Free Syrian Army, stands in shooting position behind sandbags in Ashrafieh, Aleppo, September 17, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters walk through rubble inside the old city of Aleppo, Sept. 16, 2013.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he stands on rubble of damaged buildings in al-Aseela neighborhood near Aleppo's historic citadel, Sept. 13, 2013.
  • In this citizen journalism image provided by the United media office of Arbeen, a Syrian protester chants slogans during a demonstration in Arbeen, a suburb of Damascus, Sept. 13, 2013.

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