SYRIA – UN investigators conclude “Both sides committed war crimes.”
The U.N. Commission of Inquiry has published a report identifying war crimes committed by both sides in Syria’s war. The report covers the July-December 2016 period and is based on 291 interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as analysis of forensic evidence and satellite imagery.
The panel chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, said “The scale of what happened in Aleppo is unprecedented in the Syrian conflict. Much of Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city and its commercial and culture center and a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been reduced to rubble.”
Forced displacement of civilians from eastern Aleppo “represents – and we have said this in the past – a worrying pattern that has occurred in other areas of the country including Deraa and Moadamiya,” Pinheiro said.
Pinheiro insisted that “those responsible for this ruinous situation one day are brought to justice”. The investigating team was prepared to share its confidential list of suspected war criminals on all sides with a new U.N. body on Syria being set up in Geneva to prepare criminal prosecutions.
“It cannot pass without having this step toward justice, because of the great numbers of victims,” panel member Carla del Ponte stated, adding “What we have seen here in Syria, I never saw that in Rwanda, or in former Yugoslavia, in the Balkans. It is really a big tragedy.Unfortunately we have no tribunal.”
The investigators did not attribute any specific war crime investigated to Russian forces but Pinheiro said they would not hesitate to assign responsibility “if and when we can prove it”.
The findings of the report conclude:
- Syrian and Russian forces conducted daily air strikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo between July and its fall on December 22, killing hundreds and destroying hospitals.N. investigators found that Aleppo orphanages, schools and homes were “all but obliterated.” Cluster munitions were “pervasively used” and air-dropped into densely populated areas, amounting to the war crime of indiscriminate attacks.
- Syrian helicopters unleashed toxic chlorine bombs “throughout 2016” on Aleppo, a weapon that caused hundreds of civilian casualties there. “We have established very clearly in the report that the Syrian air force is responsible for these attacks, we don’t have any evidence linking Russia to those attacks with forbidden chemical weapons,” Pinheiro said.
- At least 5,000 pro-government forces encircled eastern Aleppo in a “surrender or starve” tactic. Thousands of civilians had to leave the city under an evacuation agreement between the warring parties that amounted to the war crime of forced displacements.
- The Syrian government “meticulously planned and ruthlessly carried out” an air strike on a U.N. and Syrian Red Crescent humanitarian convoy at Orum al-Kubra, in rural western Aleppo on Sept. 19 that killed 14 aid workers and halted relief operations. Syrian forces committed the war crimes of deliberately attacking humanitarian relief personnel, denial of humanitarian aid, and attacking civilians. At the time, the Syrian army and Russia denied responsibility for the attack.
- Opposition groups shelled government-controlled western Aleppo, killing and injuring dozens. They prevented civilians from fleeing besieged eastern Aleppo, using them as human shields, which is a war crime.