UN claim mass civilian deaths in Syria

The multi-faction civil war in Syria started in March 2011, seven years ago. It has resulted in massive damage and many casualties, with civilians often being the victims. And that is still happening in what seems to have become a war of attrition.

UN war crimes investigators: Russia and U.S. air strikes caused mass civilian deaths in Syria

Air strikes by Russia and a U.S.-led coalition killed civilians in Syria on a large scale last year, while the Assad government carried out unlawful chemical weapon attacks in rebel-held eastern Ghouta, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Tuesday.

Islamic State fighters and other insurgent groups committed war crimes including deadly attacks on civilians and using them as human shields, the investigators said in their latest report covering six months through January 15.

Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that it came at a “very dark moment in this conflict” as fighting intensifies in Idlib, Afrin and Ghouta.

During the period, “victims of the Syrian conflict have suffered greatly as violence countrywide re-escalated to new heights,” the report said.

“(Syrian) government forces continued to use chemical weapons against armed group fighters in eastern Ghouta,” it said.

Among other key findings, the panel said that an air strike by a “Russian fixed-wing aircraft” using unguided weapons last November hit a market killing at least 84 people and injuring 150 in Atareb, west of Aleppo, in a “de-escalation zone” declared by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

It found no evidence that the Russian strike had deliberately targeted the market, but said “this attack may amount to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in death and injury to civilians”, the first time it has explicitly implicated Moscow in possible war crimes.

Pinheiro, commenting on the Russian strike, said that under international humanitarian law, using certain weapons in civilian areas automatically amounts to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks because of the nature of the weapons used.

And three U.S.-led coalition strikes on a school near Raqqa in March 2017 killed 150 residents – roughly five times the toll acknowledged by the Pentagon, which said at the time that dozens of militants and not civilians were killed.

The U.N. investigators found no evidence that Islamic State fighters were at the school and said the U.S.-led coalition had violated international law by failing in its duty to protect displaced civilians known to be sheltered there since 2012.

The independent investigators called on all sides to allow access to besieged areas and all detainees. Justice must be served in any peace deal ending the conflict soon entering its eighth year, they said.

Syrian government forces used chemical weapons against insurgents in eastern Ghouta, including chlorine three times in July, and in Harasta on the western edge of the zone in November, the report said. The U.N. investigators had previously documented 33 chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

However the killing and destruction is unlikely to end, as Syria, Russia and the US try to wipe out remnants of the uprising and opportunistic ISIS occupation.

But the panel was “not a tribunal” and had no powers to take its investigations further, he told a news conference.

So use of illegal weapons and attacks on civilians, whether deliberate or collateral damage, is likely to continue.