A White Helmets rescuer carries a child killed by Russia-regime bombing of Abdita, Idlib Province, northwest Syria, December 15, 2019
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has issued a report summarizing the “widespread commission” of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” by the Assad regime.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict, the Commission presented a 31-page account to the UN Human Rights Council. The panel assessed the tactics of the regime’s military and, implicitly, its Russian ally:
From the outset of the armed conflict, government forces have indiscriminately bombarded civilian populated areas and deliberately targeted protected objects, in particular hospitals and medical facilities, and what are clearly civilian locations, including markets, bakeries, schools and civilian neighbourhoods. Protected religious sites have also been struck in indiscriminate attacks.
In addition to the widespread commission of those war crimes, there are also reasonable grounds to believe that Government and pro-government forces, on multiple occasions, have committed crimes against humanity in the conduct of their use of airstrikes and artillery shelling of civilian areas.
The report noted the use of cluster munitions, banned by international law, on “multiple occasions” and the dropping of barrel bombs by the regime’s air force: “The use of such weapons in civilian populated areas was inherently indiscriminate and amounted to war crimes.”
It emphasized the attacks on “crowded markets”; the “abhorrent, established pattern of pro-government forces targeting hospitals and clinics”; and assaults with chlorine and sarin.
The Commission noted, “The Governments of both the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic declined to provide responses concerning the specific incidents concerned.”
After ten years, more than half of the pre-conflict population is internally or externally displaced, cities have been reduced to rubble, and a constellation of armed actors continue to prey on the population. Syrians in population centres have suffered vast aerial and artillery bombardments; they have endured chemical weapons attacks, modern day sieges leading to starvation and shameful restrictions on humanitarian aid.
The investigators also condemned the “indiscriminate attacks” of other actors such as the Islamic State, the Islamist bloc Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, and the Kurdish militia YPG.
They criticized the US-led coalition for “airstrikes documented to have caused civilian casualties, failing to take all feasible precautions to avoid and minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law”.
The report will be formally presented at a Human Rights Council meeting on March 11.