State, rebels committed war crimes in Syria's Ghouta: UN report

09:44 AM | 22 Jun, 2018
State, rebels committed war crimes in Syria's Ghouta: UN report
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UNITED NATIONS - A high-level UN inquiry commission says that during a five-year Syrian government siege and two months of fighting earlier this year in which government forces captured eastern suburbs of Damascus from rebels, both sides committed war crimes.

In a report released Wednesday in Geneva, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry condemned the government siege on the suburbs known as eastern Ghouta, saying at least 265,000 individuals lived in the area during the longest running siege in modern history.

The Syrian government siege ended in April when government forces and their allies launched a crushing offensive to capture the area leaving hundreds of people dead.

The 23-page report urged all parties to the conflict in Syria to desist from resorting to sieges in the future, concluding they are characterized by war crimes.

The report details the events that led to its recapture by pro-Government forces in April this year, following a dramatically escalating military campaign.

Neighbourhoods suffered aerial and ground bombardments which claimed the lives of hundreds of Syrian men, women and children, the report notes, with numerous homes, markets and hospitals all but razed to the ground.

These indiscriminate, widespread and systematic bombardments and the act of deliberately attacking protected objects, amounted to war crimes, it continues. Commenting on the events in eastern Ghouta, Commission of Inquiry Chair, Paulo Pinheiro, condemned the civilian deaths as abhorrent.

In addition to the deadly violence they faced, families were denied food and medicine, the veteran rights expert noted, before adding that no warring party acted to protect the civilian population during the last phase of the siege.

According to the report, between February and April this year, besieged armed groups and terrorist organizations based inside eastern Ghouta relentlessly fired unguided mortars into Damascus city and nearby areas, killing and maiming hundreds of Syrian civilians.

Insisting that there can be no justification for the indiscriminate shelling of inhabited areas, Commissioner Hanny Megally said that this, too, amounted to a war crime.

According to the report, by the time Government forces declared eastern Ghouta recaptured on 14 April, some 140,000 individuals had fled their homes and up to 50,000 were evacuated to Idlib and Aleppo governorates.

Tens of thousands of people have been unlawfully interned by Government forces in what the reports authors call managed sites in rural Damascus, which includes Ghouta.

Their number includes women and children, which is reprehensible, Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd said.

The report is scheduled to be formally presented next week, on 26 June, during an interactive dialogue at the current session of the Human Rights Council.