UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria Publishes Report on Children’s Rights over the course of the Syrian War
GENEVA, 16 January 2020 – Children in the Syrian Arab Republic have been robbed of their childhood as they are forced to participate in a brutal war and endure numerous violations of their rights by all parties to the conflict while remaining acutely vulnerable to violence and abuse, the Commission of Inquiry for Syria noted today in its latest report.
In a 25-page report released today, entitled “They have erased the dreams of my children,” the three-person Commission outlines the multiple rights violations children have been subjected to – including over five million children displaced internally and abroad – and how boys and girls have been robbed of their childhood over the course of the brutal eight and a half-year war.
“I am appalled by the flagrant disregard for the laws of war and the Convention on the Rights of the Child by all parties involved in the conflict”, said Commission of Inquiry Chair Paulo Pinheiro. “While the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic has the primary responsibility for the protection of boys and girls in the country, all of the actors in this conflict must do more to protect children and preserve the country’s future generation,” he noted.
Children have been killed and maimed, and subjected to myriad violations by warring parties, states the report, which covers the period between September 2011 to the end of October 2019. On multiple occasions, pro-Government forces used cluster munitions, thermobaric bombs and chemical weapons causing scores of child casualties. Rape and sexual violence have been used repeatedly against men, women, boys and girls as a tool to punish, humiliate and instil fear among communities. Government forces have detained boys as young as 12, subjecting them to severe beatings and torture.
The devastating situation of education in Syria is particularly highlighted as an area of concern. Since the start of the conflict thousands of schools have been destroyed or used for military purposes and more than 2.1 million boys and girls are not regularly attending classes of any form. “Urgent efforts are required by the Syrian Government to support as many children as possible to return to education,” noted Commissioner Karen AbuZayd. “Armed groups holding territory also need to act with haste to facilitate access to education,” she added.
Armed groups targeted schools and used educational facilities for military purposes. Children were detained and used as bargaining chips for prisoner swaps or to extract ransom. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorists recruited and used boys to fight on the frontlines. At its peak, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) subjected girls as young as nine to rape and sexual slavery. Boys, meanwhile, were given military training and routinely exposed to extreme violence, including witnessing public executions or forced into the role of executor.
The impact of the conflict on the long-term physical and mental health of boys and girls has been severe. Today, large numbers of children suffer from disabilities as well as devastating psychological and development issues. The report also outlines how over five million children have been displaced by conflict and have become increasingly vulnerable to violations.
The Commission urges States to ensure the protection of displaced children, particularly with regard to the obligations upon all States to repatriate children with familial links to ISIL fighters. “States have well defined obligations to protect children, including from statelessness. Failing to abide by such fundamental principles would be a clear derogation of duty,” noted Commissioner Hanny Megally.
Among the recommendations to the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and other key actors aimed to improve the protection of children in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Commission urges parties to respect the special protection children are entitled to under international humanitarian and human rights law and to ensure accountability for violations that have occurred. The Commission also makes a series of recommendations aimed at increasing the support for children who have suffered abuses.