Arbitrary detentions in Syria conflict may be war crimes: UN report

Arbitrary detentions in Syria conflict may be war crimes: UN report
Tens of thousands of civilians were detained, some subjected to torture and sexual offence, according to the report of the UN commission on Syria
3 min read
The Syrian regime arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals and committed "war crimes" [Getty]
Tens of thousands of civilians in Syria were "arbitrarily detained" in enforced disappearances during the country's 10-year conflict, and thousands more subjected to torture and sexual offence, a United Nations commission said in a report released on Monday.

Those offences amount to war crimes, the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said.

According to the report, the Syrian regime arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals and committed "war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of detention".

"The wealth of evidence collected over a decade is staggering, yet the parties to the conflict, with very few exceptions, have failed to investigate their own forces," said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd.

"The focus appears to be on concealing, rather than investigating crimes committed in the detention facilities," she added.

The report notes "massive scale of detention" and abuses perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and also lists detentions by insurgent groups, including Turkey-backed opposition fighters, other rebel groups and the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

It also examines the record of the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State group - both designated terrorist organisations by the UN.

The fate of tens of thousands of civilians who were forcibly disappeared by Syrian government forces, many nearly a decade ago, remains unknown, the report said.

Many are presumed to have died or been executed, while some are believed to be held in inhuman conditions of detention.

"Hundreds of thousands of family members have a right to the truth about their loved ones' fate," said the commission's chairman, Paulo Pinheiro.

The commission also urged the government in Damascus to take urgent steps to reveal the fate of the missing. The report appeals on all parties to halt and prevent violations, immediately release specific groups of individuals, allow independent monitoring of detention facilities and provide support to victims.

The more than 30-page report is based on 2,658 interviews with victims and witnesses conducted from 2011 to the end of 2020, in addition to photographs, videos, satellite imagery, official documents and reports from multiple sources.

It is also based on investigations into more than 100 specific detention facilities, history documents and continued detention-related violations and abuses by nearly every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011.

The report is to be discussed by the UN-backed Human Rights Council, which set up the commission on March 11, as part of its current four-week session.

The conflict has killed nearly half a million people, displaced half the country's pre-war population of 23 million, including 5 million who are refugees abroad. Large parts of Syria are destroyed and tens of thousands still live in tent settlements.

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