Mass deaths in Syrian jails amount to crime of 'extermination': UN
REUTERS photoDetainees held by the Syrian government are dying on a massive scale amounting to a state policy of “extermination” of the civilian population, a crime against humanity, United Nations investigators said on Feb. 8.
The U.N. commission of inquiry called on the Security Council to impose “targeted sanctions” on Syrian officials in the civilian and military hierarchy responsible for or complicit in deaths, torture and disappearances in custody, but stopped short of naming them.
In their report, the independent experts said they had also documented mass executions and torture of prisoners by two jihadi groups, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), constituting war crimes.
The report, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention,” covers March 10, 2011 to Nov. 30, 2015. It is based on interviews with 621 survivors and witnesses and evidence gathered by the team led by Chairman Paulo Pinheiro.
“Over the past four and a half years, thousands of detainees have been killed while in the custody of warring parties,” the Commission of Inquiry on Syria said, as reported by Reuters.
“The killings and deaths described in this report occurred with high frequency, over a long period of time and in multiple locations, with significant logistical support involving vast State resources,” the report said. “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct described amounts to extermination as a crime against humanity.”
Tens of thousands of detainees are held by the government of President Bashar al-Assad at any one time, and thousands more have “disappeared” after arrest by state forces or gone missing after abduction by armed groups, it said.
Through mass arrests and killing of civilians, including by starvation and untreated wounds and disease, state forces have “engaged in the multiple commissions of crimes, amounting to a systematic and widespread attack against a civilian population.”
There were reasonable grounds to believe that “high-ranking officers,” including the heads of branches and directorates commanding the detention facilities and military police, as well as their civilian superiors, knew of the deaths and of bodies buried anonymously in mass graves.
Meanwhile, the new Siege Watch report, issued on Feb. 9 by the Netherlands-based aid group PAX and the Washington-based Syria Institute, said that more than one million Syrians are trapped in besieged areas, in a challenge to the United Nations, which estimates just half that amount and has been accused by some aid groups of underplaying a crisis.
The Siege Watch report says 1.09 million people are living in 46 besieged communities in Syria, far more than the 18 listed by the U.N., the Associated Press reported. It says most are besieged by the Syrian government in the suburbs of Damascus, the capital, and Homs. In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, about 200,000 people are besieged by both ISIL and the Syrian government. The report lists two communities besieged by armed opposition groups.
“Electricity and running water are usually cut off, and there is limited [if any] access to food, fuel, and medical care,” the report says. Deaths have been reported from malnutrition, disease, hypothermia and poisoning while scavenging for food. Some communities have been besieged for months or years.
The town featured in the images, Madaya, was not listed by the U.N. as a besieged community at the time. Aid workers who entered last month reported seeing skeletal people and parents who gave their children sleeping pills to calm their hunger.
The estimates are based largely on information provided by local contacts in the communities, including local councils, medical workers and citizen journalists.
With the spotlight on the besieged, the United Nations last month raised its estimate by almost 100,000, saying that 486,700 people are affected.