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UN inquiry finds 'rampant war crimes' in Syria

The report said international powers are feeding the military escalation [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 February, 2016

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A damning UN report released on Monday said war crimes are rampant in Syria and not a single warring party respected international humanitarian law or the Geneva conventions.

War crimes are "rampant" in Syria, and the conflict has become "a multisided proxy war steered from abroad by an intricate network of alliances," UN investigators said in a new report Monday.

The report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria documents atrocities committed from July 2015 to January 2016.

It said that the international powers and regional countries ostensibly pushing for a peaceful solution are the same nations that "continue to feed the military escalation."

The report was released as US officials said they had agreed with Russia on a new "cessation of hostilities" in Syria that will take effect at midnight on Friday.

A similar cessation announced on 12 February and set to begin last week did not take place, while Russian airstrikes continued to support a Syrian government offensive in the northern province of Aleppo.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of the commission established by the UN Human Rights Council, enthusiastically welcomed efforts launched in Vienna and Munich to find a political solution to the conflict, which will enter its sixth year in March with over 250,000 people killed.

The UN investigators warned that "the fractured Syrian state is on the brink of collapse" and said there is a growing risk of "internationalisation of the conflict."

Not a single warring party respects international humanitarian law, the Geneva conventions, or the conventions of human rights

Crimes against humanity continue to be committed by government forces and the Islamic State group (IS), their report said.

"The fight for control of areas in the hands of enemy forces is carried out with blatant disregard for human life and the laws of war," Pinheiro told a news conference launching the report.

"Not a single warring party respects international humanitarian law, the Geneva conventions, or the conventions of human rights."

The investigators urged the UN Security Council to take action to bring the perpetrators to justice, possibly by referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court or to "an ad hoc tribunal."

Russia and China, allies of Syria, vetoed a referral resolution in May 2014.

The report said the Syrian military is facing a severe shortage of manpower, which has forced it to rely on a growing number of foreign militia in recent attacks, "implying an increasing fragmentation of the government forces and the decentralisation of Syrian state authority."

"While no party seems able to achieve 'victory,' all appear to have sufficient capacity to sustain operations for the foreseeable future, perpetuating death and destruction along the way," the investigators said.

The report paints a grim picture of what it called "the destruction of the country and the devastation of the nation" - giving numerous examples of attacks carried out by government forces, opposition groups, Russia and the US-led coalition that killed civilians.

The report said that in addition to IS, al-Qaeda affilate al-Nusra Front, and anti-government armed groups also hold hostages for ransom to generate revenue

The targeting of hospitals and medical personnel remain "an ingrained feature of the Syrian conflict," the investigators added.

According to the report, government forces targeted hospitals and medical clinics in areas not under their control, including in Aleppo where fewer than 10 of the 33 hospitals open in 2010 in what was once the country's largest city and commercial hub are still functioning.

IS has also directed multiple bombings at medical centers in areas recently seized by Kurdish militias, including a triple bombing of a clinic in Tel Tamer on 10 December that killed more than 50 civilians, it said.

The investigators also accused all warring parties of carrying out "deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on schools," which is one reason that more than 3 million children in the country aren't going to classes.

The investigators called the destruction of cultural sites by IS militants "a war crime."

They said civilians have been deliberately killed and persecuted for their ethnicity or religion.

One example they cited was the Jaish al-Islam rebel group putting men and women belonging to the Alawite sect - the same sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - in metal cages and parading them through their stronghold in eastern Ghouta following an airstrike on a vegetable market on 30 October in which at least 50 civilians were killed.

The report also cites the IS group's use of slave markets where fighters and civilian supporters buy Yazidi women and girls, some as young as 9 years old.

The report said that in addition to IS, al-Qaeda affilate al-Nusra Front, and anti-government armed groups also hold hostages for ransom to generate revenue.

Agencies contributed to this report

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