UN accuses both sides in Syria of grave violations against children

10,000 children have been killed and ‘unspecified numbers’ abused and tortured

Children after what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad are pictured in Aleppo. Both sides of the conflict have been accused of committing human rights violations against children. Photograph: Ahmad Othman/Reuters

Children after what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad are pictured in Aleppo. Both sides of the conflict have been accused of committing human rights violations against children. Photograph: Ahmad Othman/Reuters

Thu, Feb 6, 2014, 01:00

UN investigators have accused Syria’s warring sides of committing grave human rights violations against children. Their report estimates 10,000 children have been killed, while unspecified numbers have suffered abuse in government prisons, been recruited as child soldiers by insurgents, used as human shields and suffered torture.

“The suffering endured by the children . . . is unspeakable and unacceptable,” secretary general Ban Ki-moon said.

“I . . . urge all parties to take, without delay, all measures to protect and uphold the rights of all children in Syria. ”

During 2011 and 2012, children with links to the opposition were imprisoned with adults and subjected to “ill-treatment and acts tantamount to torture”, including beatings, electric shocks, rape and mock executions. The object of the abuse was to force relatives to surrender or confess to anti-government activities, the report said.

Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents committed sexual abuse and carried out summary executions of children, while groups belonging to the western-backed Free Syrian Army recruited children in Syria and in refugee camps for military and support roles. Children have been used for “terror tactics in civilian areas, leading to civilian casualties, including children”, the report says.

It charges all sides with obstructing delivery of humanitarian aid to areas under fire.

Separately, the UN Relief and Works Agency announced that a polio vaccine for 10,000 children has been delivered to the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee neighbourhood south of Damascus and vaccination was under way. Spokesman Chris Gunness said distribution of food parcels had reached over 5,000 people since January 18th, when access was granted. Some 1,500 residents have left the area after securing approval, presumably from all sides.

Former al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and Suqour al-Sham, part of the Saudi-backed Islamic Front, have signed a truce after a month of fighting that has killed 1,700 in the northern Aleppo, Raqaa and Idlib provinces. It is not clear whether the six other front members adhere to the truce.

Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mikdad responded to US criticism of the regime’s failure to meet this week’s deadline for exporting weapons chemicals by stating Damascus remained committed to the deal for destroying stockpiles by mid- 2014. Russia has said the bulk of the consignment will be transported to Latakia by the end of this month so they can be shipped to Europe for destruction.

Syria’s government and the expatriate opposition National Coalition have agreed to a second round of talks opening in Geneva on February 10th.

Coalition chief Ahmed Jarba declared his group’s willingness to attend following a meeting in Moscow with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Mr Jarba is set to hold discussions in Cairo with Hassan Abdel-Azim of the domestic opposition National Co-ordination Board with the aim of agreeing on broader representation in the Geneva talks.