GENEVA – In Syria's civil war, girls as young as nine have been raped and forced into sexual slavery. Boys have been tortured, forced into military training and ordered to carry out killings in public. Children have been targeted by sniper fire and used as bargaining chips to extract ransoms.
Those gruesome facts have been the focus of a new report by U.N.-backed investigators into the Syrian war, which for the first time looks solely on the plight of the children caught up in the conflict.
The group, known as the Commission of Inquiry for Syria, has been scrutinizing and chronicling human rights violations since shortly after the conflict broke out in 2011. The investigators said in their report released Thursday that the abuse and violence against Syrian children goes well beyond just getting caught in the crossfire of warring sides.
“After eight years of conflict, children in Syria have experienced unabated violations of their rights: they continue to be killed, maimed, injured and orphaned, bearing the brunt of violence perpetrated by warring parties,” the report said.
It did not offer a casualty count among children — the commission stopped counting the victims years ago, citing its inability to verify the figures in a country where they have been blocked from entry.
The report did, however, say that 5 million children have been displaced internally and outside Syria, “robbed of their childhood” by violations from all sides.
Extremists from the Islamic State group subjected girls as young as nine to “sexual slavery" while boys were recruited to fight in areas run by al-Qaida-linked militant. Airstrikes have devastated entire cities and towns.
Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, which bears responsibility for respect of human rights on its territory under international law, ignored such commitments, the report said. It cited pro-government fighters as “regularly targeting children using sniper fire” and deploying cluster munitions, thermobaric bombs and chemical weapons, “often against civilian objects such as schools and hospitals.”
The report analyzed the period from September 2011 to October 2019 through more than 5,000 interviews with Syrian children, as well as witnesses, survivors, relatives, medical professionals, defectors and fighters.
As with its previous reports, the three-member Commission of Inquiry listed recommendations for the warring sides, Syria's government and the international community. But there are concerns the report will like many others in Syria's civil war, now in its ninth year, go unheeded and bring about few concrete results.