BEIRUT – Children in Syria have been tortured, sexually abused and subjected to “indiscriminate” attacks by President Bashar Assad’s forces, and recruited for combat and terror operations by the rebels fighting to topple him during the country’s nearly 3-year-old conflict, a new United Nations report said.
The report to the U.N. Security Council by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlights the plight of children in the conflict from the beginning of the uprising against Assad in March 2011 until Nov. 15, 2013. It was given to the council this week and posted on the U.N. website Tuesday.
Ban said Syrian children have been subjected to “unspeakable and unacceptable” suffering during that time. “Violations must come to an end now,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government missed another deadline for destroying its chemical weapons Wednesday, but pledged to complete the process by June 30 as promised.
Under a timetable set up by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Syria was to have given up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons by Wednesday. Last week, a U.S. diplomat said Syria had only removed 4 percent of its most deadly chemicals so far. All should have been removed by Dec. 31 under the framework.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad said the U.S. is fully committed to the process.
“Difficulties facing Syria, particularly in the framework of the country’s war on terrorism, could hinder the implementation of some commitments from time to time,” he said Wednesday, according to SANA.
A day earlier, he rejected U.S. criticism for its slow pace in moving the chemicals out of the country, calling the accusations “baseless and unfair.”
The uprising against Assad’s rule began with largely peaceful protests in 2011 but evolved in time into a bloody civil war that has killed more than 10,000 children according to U.N. estimates and more than 130,000 people, according to activists. Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries or in safer parts of their homeland.
The conflict has hit the country’s children hard.
In the early stages, Ban said, violations against children were committed largely by Syria’s armed forces, intelligence forces and allied Shabiha militia but as the conflict intensified and the opposition became more organized, an increasing number of violations committed by Free Syrian Army-affiliated groups were documented.
The report said the “disproportionate and indiscriminate” use of weapons and military tactics by government forces and associated militias “has resulted in countless killings and the maiming of children, and has obstructed children’s access to education and health services.” Military forces have pounded rebel-held areas with airstrikes and artillery and also subjected them to blockades of food and medicine.
According to the report, Syrian forces have also been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment, and torture of children in detention facilities. Children in government custody have reportedly suffered beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons, electric shock and sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, it said.
Children as young as 10 have been detained by the authorities on suspicion of having links with armed groups, the report said, citing the arrest of a large number of boys and girls, mainly between the ages of 10 and 12 in August 2012 in Kfarzita village in Hama province by Syrian troops, who the report says used them as human shields.
Ban’s report said armed opposition groups also engaged in “the summary execution of children.” It said U.N. investigators have not been able to reach many of the rebel-held areas for lack of security there, and consequently have been unable to further investigate and document those violations but “trends are believed to be much higher than the number of recorded cases.”
In one notorious case reported by activists and residents in Aleppo last year, militants from a then-al-Qaida-linked group shot to death a 15-year-old coffee vendor in front of his parents, accusing him of being an “infidel” for allegedly mentioning Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in vain.
Ban said the U.N. also received consistent reports of the recruitment and use of children by Free Syrian Army-affiliated groups as fighters as well as cooks, porters, spies, messengers and smugglers of arms across borders. It said reports of boys and girls aged 14 to 17 associated with Syrian Kurdish armed groups in Al Hassakeh governorate in support and combat functions were also documented and verified.
While there is limited information available, the report said, “allegations were received that armed opposition groups also controlled detention facilities in which children perceived to be pro-government suffered ill treatment and torture.”
The secretary-general said the U.N. task force in Syria was able to independently monitor and report on a limited number of cases inside Syria and the information in the report is based largely on interviews conducted by the United Nations, including numerous accounts from refugees.