War crimes committed by all parties in battle for Aleppo: UN

United Nations: Syrian civilians fell victim to war crimes committed by all parties during the battle for Aleppo last year, a report issued by a UN-mandated inquiry commission has said.

The report released yesterday documents brutal tactics employed by the parties to the conflict in the country as they engaged in the decisive battle for the city between July and December 2016, resulting in unparalleled suffering for Syrian men, women and children.

“The violence in Aleppo documented in our report should focus the international community on the continued, cynical disregard for the laws of war by the warring parties in Syria,” said Paulo Pinheiro, the Chair of the three-member Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council.

“The deliberate targeting of civilians has resulted in the immense loss of human life, including hundreds of children,” he added.

The report notes that the siege-like tactics employed by pro-Government forces in eastern Aleppo last year trapped civilians without adequate food or medical supplies, and that between July and December, Syrian and Russian forces carried out daily air strikes, claiming hundreds of lives and reducing hospitals, schools and markets to rubble.

It adds that Syrian forces also used chlorine bombs – a chemical agent prohibited under international law – in residential areas, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. The Commission also notes that it received reports of use of cluster munitions in densely populated areas.

By late December, when pro-Government forces on the ground took control over eastern Aleppo, no functioning hospitals remained. The intentional targeting of these medical facilities amounted to war crimes, the Commission said.

In the course of its investigations, the Commission also examined an attack on a UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy in Orum al-Kubra in Aleppo’s countryside by the Syrian Air Force.

“Under no circumstances can humanitarian aid workers be targeted,” Commissioner Carla del Ponte said.

The 37-page document reveals that the eastern Aleppo evacuation agreement forced thousands of civilians – despite a lack of military necessity or deference to the choice of affected individuals – to move to Government-controlled western Aleppo whilst others were taken to Idlib where they are once more living under bombardments.

“Some of these agreements amount to forced displacement. It is imperative that the parties refrain from similar future agreements and provide the conditions for the safe return of those who wish to go back to their homes in eastern Aleppo,” Commissioner Karen AbuZayd said.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was established by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011.

The report is based on 291 interviews, including with residents of Aleppo, and the review of satellite imagery, photographs, videos and medical records. It is scheduled to be presented to current session of the Council on March 14 during an interactive dialogue.