Assad forces, ISIS, al-Nusra and YPG commit 'crimes against civilians' in Syria: Rights Groups

Published 27.06.2015 17:24
Updated 29.06.2015 18:44
A man evacuates a child from a building following a barrel bomb attack by Syrian regime forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on May 30, 2015 (AFP Photo)
A man evacuates a child from a building following a barrel bomb attack by Syrian regime forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on May 30, 2015 (AFP Photo)

While fierce battles continue among different groups in Syria, several reports, released by different rights groups, revealed that civilians are the real victims of the war as ISIS, regime and YPG commit war crimes

As the civil war in Syria continues to take the lives of thousands of civilians and displace millions from their homes, human rights groups continue to shed light on the inhumane treatment of civilians by the groups involved and the "war crimes" committed, including torture, rape and the usage of prohibited chemical weapons, mainly by the Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime forces since the March 2011 uprisings.

A recent report by the international human rights organization, Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), which focuses on the civil war in Syria, has revealed that pro-Assad forces have tortured civilians, including children and women, which has resulted in the killing of 11,429 people since the war started. Out of the 11,429 civilians who were killed through torture, 230 were children and women, and 99 percent were killed by pro-Assad forces, according to the report prepared for the June 26 United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, according to Al Jazeera Türk. President of the SNHR Fadıl Abdulgani said that the Syrian regime has embraced torture, which has long-term physical and psychological effects as a method of instilling fear. The SNHR report also stated that various opposition groups – the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the Kurdish forces from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People's Protection Unit (YPG) - have also been involved in torturing civilians, resulting in deaths.

Similar to the SNHR, Human Rights Watch (HRW)'s 2014 country report on Syria reported that the regime forces have continued the use of cluster bombs, which were prohibited by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. According to the HRW report, regime forces used "at least 204 cluster munitions, in nine of the country's total 14 governorates. The actual number of cluster munitions used by Syrian government forces is probably higher." In 2013, the regime's air forces have carried out ballistic missile attacks against civilians, including strikes against civilians in populated areas, killing more than 200 civilians, including 100 children, HRW said, adding that the regime deliberately targeted civilians in some cases. "No military targets were struck in the attacks and in seven of nine investigated cases, Human Rights Watch found no signs of any apparent military targets in the vicinity," the HRW report said.

The report also indicates that "Incendiary weapons containing flammable substances designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injuries and death," were also used against the Syrian people by the regime forces. The HRW's report states that pro-Assad forces have "subjected tens of thousands of people to arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, and torture using an extensive network of detention facilities throughout Syria. Many detainees were young men in their 20s or 30s, but children, women, and elderly people were also detained" - a finding similar to the SNHR's report. Among the arrested, journalists and humanitarian workers have also been facing torture by regime forces during their detention period, as well as their families, including children, the HRW report said.

In another report, titled "Syria: Chemicals Used in Idlib Attacks" published in April 2014, HRW puts forward that "Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces used toxic chemicals in several barrel bomb attacks in the Idlib governorate between March 16 and March 31, 2015. Syrian rescue workers reported that these attacks affected at least 206 people, including 20 civil defense workers," despite the banning of the chemical weapons by the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria ratified in October 2013. "On March 6, 2015, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2209, in which it expressed concern that toxic chemicals had been used as a weapon in Syria and decided that in the event of non-compliance, it would impose measures under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter," the report said.

Amnesty International (AI) is another NGO that has reported on war crimes committed in Syria. In AI's report, published on May 4, 2015, titled "Death Everywhere: War Crimes and Human Rights Abuses in Aleppo," the atrocities and war crimes of the regime forces and other armed groups involved in Syria's ongoing civil war are being exposed. The report suggests that all parties are involved in committing violence against civilians "on a daily basis," amounting to "crimes against humanity." The report has covered the incidents in which civilian life was even forced to resume underground. "Barrel bombs - packed with explosives and metal fragments - have been dropped by government forces on schools, hospitals, mosques and crowded markets. Many hospitals and schools have sought safety by moving into basements or underground bunkers. Widespread atrocities, in particular the vicious and unrelenting aerial bombardment of civilian neighborhoods by government forces, have made life for civilians in Aleppo increasingly unbearable. These reprehensible and continual strikes on residential areas point to a policy of deliberately and systematically targeting civilians in attacks that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity," said Philip Luther, director of AI's Middle East and North Africa Program.

Furthermore, the U.N.'s "Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic," published on Feb. 5, 2015, is another source that has reported crimes committed by groups involved in the Syrian war. According to the U.N.'s report, the Assad regime has used a variety of weaponry against the civilian population. "The Government began hostilities by employing artillery shells, mortars and rockets against restive and sometimes besieged areas. By mid-2012, the use of cluster munitions, thermo-baric bombs and missiles was documented, often used against civilian objectives, such as schools and hospitals. The government has also used incendiary weapons." Among the opposition groups, the reports have also identified crimes committed by al-Nusra Front, which relied on extensive use of "car bombs and suicide bombings against military targets, it has also detonated bombs in civilian areas, particularly in Homs city in 2014," in addition to involvement "in the massacres of civilians in Rif Damascus in December 2013, and in Hama on Dec. 24, 2013 and Feb. 9, 2014." With regards to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), U.N.'s report says that "in areas with diverse ethnic and religious communities, minorities have been forced to either assimilate or flee. It forcibly displaced Kurds from towns in Ar Raqqa governorate as early as July 2013. As recently as November 2014, it evicted Kurds living in Aleppo. It has also destroyed Christian churches and Shiite shrines in its areas of control."

In addition, Kurdish militants from the People's Protection Unit (YPG), the armed branch of the outlawed-PKK's Syrian offshoot Democratic Union Party (PYD), have recruited "children – both boys and girls – for use in hostilities. In a letter dated Sept. 30, 2013 addressed to the Commission, the YPG said that its policy was not to use children under the age of 18. Underage fighters, however, were involved in YPG military operations against ISIS in Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) in September and October 2014," the U.N. report exposed.

The human cost of the Syrian civil war, which began after the March 2011 uprisings is immeasurable. An unknown number of civilians have died – most figures suggest more than 200,000 – and millions have been displaced from their homes. Currently, official figures suggest that there are more than 2 million displaced Syrians having sought refuge in Turkey alone, in addition to those in Lebanon and other neighboring countries.

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