Expert Commentary

U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

2012 United Nations panel report on human rights violations by the Syrian government and military.

On February 23, 2012, the United Nations issued report outlining the case that during the Syrian uprising the country’s regime has committed “gross human rights violations” and that “such violations originated from policies and directives issued at the highest levels of the armed forces and the Government.”

The report states that a “number of military commanders and civilian superiors may reasonably be suspected of responsibility for crimes against humanity because of their knowing failure to take all necessary and reasonable measures within their power to prevent or repress the commission of relevant crimes by their subordinates or to submit the matter to the competent authorities.”

The investigators, who spoke with more than 350 witnesses, conclude that the Syrian government has “manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect its people.”

Key points in the report include:

  • “Starting in early November 2011, the level of violence between State forces and anti-Government armed groups increased in areas of Homs, Hama, Rif Dimashq and Idlib governorates with a strong presence of such groups. State forces withdrew from and then surrounded many of these areas. Army snipers and Shabbiha [government-backed militia and gangs] gunmen posted at strategic points terrorized the population, targeting and killing small children, women and other unarmed civilians. Fragmentation mortar bombs were also fired into densely populated neighbourhoods.”
  • Victims and witnesses gave “credible and consistent accounts of places and methods of torture,” furnishing information that points to 38 detention locations in 12 cities. “Security agencies continued to systematically arrest wounded patients in State hospitals and to interrogate them, often using torture, about their supposed participation in opposition demonstrations or armed activities. The commission documented evidence that sections of Homs Military Hospital and Al Ladhiqiyah State Hospital had been transformed into torture centres.”
  • “According to the Violations Documenting Centre, which gathers the names of detainees and the place and date of their arrest from families and local coordination committees [run by opposition groups], more than 18,000 detainees, including more than 200 women and girls and more than 400 boys, remained in detention at 15 February 2012.”
  • “According to estimates, 70,000 people have been arbitrarily displaced within the country. More than 20,000 Syrians found themselves in a precarious situation as refugees in other countries.”
  • “As the violence intensified, children continued to be the victims. The State authorities made no visible efforts to protect children’s rights. According to a reliable source, more than 500 children have been killed since March 2011, with the highest number of children killed in December 2011 (80 deaths) and January 2012 (72). The largest group were adolescents aged between 16 and 18 years. Snipers and other State forces killed or wounded children, including those aged 10 years and younger. Many children were killed when the army shelled residential areas in Homs and other cities in January and February 2012.”
  • “On 15 February 2012, the Government provided [casualty] figures, according to which 2,493 civilians and 1,345 soldiers and police officers had been killed in the Syrian Arab Republic in the period from 15 March 2011 to 18 January 2012.”
  • “The Violations Documenting Centre, affiliated to the local coordination committees, counted 6,399 civilians and 1,680 army defectors killed in the period from 15 March 2011 to 15 February 2012.11 The victims included 244 adult women, 115 girls and 425 boys. December 2011 (1,046 victims), January (1,196) and the first half of February 2012 (983) have been clearly the most violent period since the unrest erupted in March 2011.”
  • “The boycott on Syrian oil exports, sanctions against the banking sector and reported capital flight have devalued the Syrian currency, spurring inflation. The Ministry of the Economy estimated that, by the end of 2011, prices for basic food items had increased by up to 37%, hurting the poor in particular.”
  • “The crisis has exacerbated preexisting high levels of poverty and unemployment. “In December 2011, the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs announced that the unemployment rate was in the range of 22 to 30 percent.” The economy is estimated to have shrunk between 2% and 4% in 2011, “with a markedly higher drop expected for 2012.”

The U.N. report does note that the Free Syrian Army, the primary rebel force, has also committed abuses in the conflict, but that these are “not comparable in scale and organization to those carried out by the state.”

Tags: Middle East

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