Thursday, April 19, 2018

UN: 'Unspeakable suffering' for Syria's children

BEIRUT — Children in Syria have been tortured, sexually abused and subjected to "indiscriminate" attacks by President Bashar Assad's forces, and recruited for combat and terror operations by the rebels fighting to topple him during the country's nearly 3-year-old conflict, a new United Nations report said.

The report to the U.N. Security Council by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon highlights the plight of children in the conflict from the beginning of the uprising against Assad in March 2011 until Nov. 15, 2013. It was given to the council this week and posted on the U.N. website Tuesday.

Ban said Syrian children have been subjected to "unspeakable and unacceptable" suffering during that time. "Violations must come to an end now," he said.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government missed another deadline for destroying its chemical weapons Wednesday, but pledged to complete the process by June 30.

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

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 10,000 children — according to U.N. estimates — and more than 130,000 people, according to activists. Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries or in safer parts of their homeland.

The conflict has hit the country's children hard.

In the early stages, Ban said, violations against children were committed largely by Syria's armed forces, intelligence forces and allied Shabiha militia but as the conflict intensified and the opposition became more organized, an increasing number of violations committed by Free Syrian Army-affiliated groups were documented.

The report said the "disproportionate and indiscriminate" use of weapons and military tactics by government forces and associated militias "has resulted in countless killings and the maiming of children, and has obstructed children's access to education and health services."

Children as young as 10 have been detained on suspicion of having links with armed groups, the report said, citing the arrest of a large number of boys and girls, mainly between the ages of 10 and 12 in August 2012 in Kfarzita village in Hama province by Syrian troops, who the report says used them as human shields.

Ban's report said armed opposition groups also engaged in "the summary execution of children." It said U.N. 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 but "trends are believed to be much higher than the number of recorded cases."

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