independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

UN details plight of Syria children

Syria's uprising against president Bashar Assad's rule began in 2011

Children in Syria have been tortured, maimed and sexually abused by president Bashar Assad's forces and recruited for combat by the rebels fighting to topple him during the country's nearly three-year-old conflict, a new United Nations report said.

The report, which highlights the treatment of children in the conflict from the beginning of the uprising against Assad in March 2011 until November 15, 2013, was released this week to the Security Council and has been posted on the UN website.

It cites UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as saying that Syrian children have been subjected to "unspeakable suffering" during that time. Mr Ban urged Syria's warring sides to "take, without delay, all measures to protect and uphold the rights of all children in Syria".

The uprising against Assad's rule began with largely peaceful protests in 2011 but evolved in time into a bloody civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people, according to activists. Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes, seeking shelter in neighbouring countries or in safer parts of their homeland.

The conflict has hit the country's children hard.

The UN said government forces have been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children. Children as young as 11 have been detained by the authorities on suspicion of having links with armed groups.

Children in government custody have reportedly suffered beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons, electric shock and sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, the report said.

It was not clear what methodology was used and the summary of the report posted on the UN website did not say how investigators obtained their information.

Allegations of sexual violence by opposition groups were also received, but the UN was unable to further investigate them due to lack of access to areas under rebel control, the report says.

While Assad's forces have used children as human shields in the fighting, the report also blasted rebels for "recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations".

During the first two years of the conflict, most killings and maiming of children were attributed to government forces, the UN report said. During 2013, the opposition forces have increasingly "engaged in such acts", the report said.

"Armed opposition groups also engaged in the summary execution of children," the report said. It said UN investigators have not been able to reach many of the rebel-held areas for lack of security there, and consequently have been unable to further investigate and document those violations.

Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth said: "The United Nations report confirms our worst fears that Syria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child right now.

"The report also confirms many horrific things we already knew: that at least 10,000 children have been killed and that 'grave violations against children' had been committed by 'all parties to the conflict' since it began in March 2011.

"The report highlights the urgent need for all sides to refrain from targeting children.

"This means not targeting schools or hospitals, not using explosive weapons in populated areas, not recruiting child soldiers and ensuring that all children in need, wherever they are, are able to access humanitarian assistance."

Meanwhile, the Syrian government missed another deadline for destroying its chemical weapons on Wednesday, but pledged to meet a final deadline of June 30.

Under a timetable set up by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Syria was to have given up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons by Wednesday. Last week, a US diplomat said Syria had only removed 4% of its most deadly chemicals so far. All should have been removed by December 31 under the framework.

Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal al-Mikdad rejected US criticism for its slow pace in moving the chemicals out of the country, calling the accusations "baseless and unfair".

Speaking in an interview with Syrian TV, he claimed the US was to blame for the delay, because it was still supporting "terrorists" in Syria who were hindering the safe transport of the chemicals to the port of Latakia for removal out of the country. He said Syria is still co-operating and plans to meet the June 30 deadline.

Press Association

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