UN Report Details Abuse of Children By Rebels and Government Forces in Syria


Credit: Bernd Schwabe in Hannover

A United Nations report released online yesterday highlights the awful suffering that children in Syria have endured throughout that country's ongoing civil war. Writing in the report, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "The suffering endured by the children in the Syrian Arab Republic since the outset of the conflict, as documented in this report, is unspeakable and unacceptable."

The report details how government forces have been torturing children allegedly associated with rebel groups:

Multiple accounts of children and adult witnesses indicate that the majority of children were held in the same cells as adults, and that children as young as 11 years old suffered ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture to extract confessions or humiliate them or to pressure a relative to surrender or confess. Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives. Reports indicate that children were also suspended from walls or ceilings by their wrists or other limbs, were forced to put their head, neck and legs through a tire while being beaten, and were tied to a board and beaten.

The U.N. report is the latest to exposes the extent of the Assad regime's brutality. Last month, a report was released detailing the slaughter of thousands of detainees carried out by government forces.

While the scale of the Assad regime's barbarism is always worth highlighting, it should be noted that the U.N. report also mentions that rebels associated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been recruiting children to be used in combat. The FSA does not have children recruitment as a policy, but some boys feel pressured to join the fight against Assad:

The FSA Code of Conduct of August 2012 did not mention or prohibit the recruitment and use of children. However, monitoring and verification activities indicated that it was not conducted as a policy or systematically. Interviews with children and their parents indicated that the loss of parents and relatives, political mobilization and peer pressure from families and communities, contributed to the involvement of children with FSA-affiliated groups. Many boys stated that they felt it was their duty to join the opposition.

More from the report on the FSA's recruitment:

13. Boys aged 12 to 17 years were trained, armed and used as combatants or to man checkpoints. For instance, a 15-year-old boy reported having been recruited in April 2012 by FSA in Tall Kalakh (Tartus governorate), and having participated in military operations.

The report also mentions reports of Syrian government forces recruiting child soldiers:

The United Nations did not receive reports of children having been formally recruited by Government forces. However, Government forces, including the Shabiha militia and the popular committees/National Defence Forces, reportedly intimidated and seized young males, including those under the age of 18, to join their ranks at checkpoints and during raids in pro-Government and contested areas. In one instance in July 2012, a man reported to the United Nations that the Syrian Armed Forces had tried to recruit his 16-year-old son while they were passing a checkpoint in Deir ez-Zor governorate.

The FSA is not the only rebel group mentioned in the report. The report refers to rebel groups, such as the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, which have allegedly killed children. The report claims that "Armed opposition groups" summarily execute children.

28. Children were the victims of mass killings in Latakia governorate that were committed by a coalition of armed opposition groups allegedly including Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar and Suqour al-Izz during the so-called Barouda offensive against Alawite villages on 4 August 2013. At least 18 children, including boys and girls under the age of 10, were killed and an unknown number of children were maimed. Most children were shot in their houses or while trying to flee with family members. In some instances, civilians reported that armed opposition groups tried to relocate civilians before launching operations. In most incidents, however, FSA-affiliated and other armed groups conducted military operations in densely populated areas, leading to the displacement and civilian casualties, including children. Armed opposition groups reportedly used snipers, mortars, rockets and improvised explosive devices in residential areas.

29. Armed opposition groups also engaged in the summary execution of children. Lack of access, including for security reasons, has prevented the United Nations from systematic documentation. Trends are believed to be much higher than the number of recorded cases. For instance, in 2011 in Damascus governorate, FSA elements reportedly killed a 16-year-old boy, who had allegedly been coerced to work with the Government when his father was detained by Government forces. The United Nations also received reports of children killed by Jabhat al-Nusra, including, a 16-year-old boy who was shot dead in April 2013 in Al Hassakeh governorate. Also in Al Hassakeh governorate, a 14-year-old boy was reportedly shot dead by elements of Syrian Kurdish armed groups associated with PYD during a demonstration of another Kurdish faction.

Unsurprisingly, the first round of peace talks in Switzerland between the Syrian government and some opposition representatives did not amount to much. As the war in Syria goes on and interventionists continue to make the case for increased foreign involvement in the war it is worth bearing the recent U.N. report in mind. As awful as the Assad regime is, opposition groups are also responsible for abuses.

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  1. Usually these stories are used to whip up outrage to support intervention. Of course no one can think of how an “intervention” won’t also end up killing a lot of kids too.
    We left dead American kids all over Iraq.

    1. But the US doesn’t kill kids intentionally. The intention is to save them.

  2. Muslims acting barbaric? Stop the presses!

    1. Muslims People acting barbaric? Stop the presses!


      1. And to be clear, I’m not sticking up for muslims so much as pointing out that they don’t have a monopoly on barbarism.

        1. It shouldn’t be surprising to anybody that regional ethnic conflicts featuring violent insurrections against vicious dictators mean bad things for children–regardless of religion.

        2. Who said they did?

          That’s a very Hegelian way of thinking, though – unless a single sentence expresses the complete truth about the universe, it’s wrong and must be corrected by a dialectical movement.

          1. I don’t think that was a response to a single sentence.

            It’s a response to hundreds of sentences that have been written in this forum–and thousands we’ve all read everywhere else.

            In fact, the threads about conflict in the Muslim world where no commenter attributes the brutality to Islam are quite rare, and if no one picks up on this little conversation and tries to argue that Islam is actually inherently barbaric, I’ll be surprised.

            1. Speaking of which, that was sort of how I read PapayaSF’s point to which this thread is responding.

            2. Based on plenty of historical evidence, much of it recent, I would say that yes, Islam has an inherent tendency toward barbarism. E.g., the support for suicide bombing and killing for the faith is far higher among Muslims than it is for other religions.

              It’s a very “enlightened” Western attitude to believe that, because we believe in freedom of religion, that all religions are equal in all ways. They aren’t. Some are clearly worse than others, by objective measures.

              1. 1) Neither other people nor their freedom exist for your benefit. Seriously, Muslims aren’t here for your benefit. Sometimes freedom hurts people.

                Over the long term, freedom tends to benefit the most people the most, but I would prefer freedom for qualitative reasons even if it weren’t objectively superior from a utilitarian standpoint in the short term.

                “Some are clearly worse than others, by objective measures.”

                I prefer some religions–for qualitative reasons–rather than others, but an objective measure that shows that, say, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs killing each other is objectively better than Sunnis and Shia killing each other?

                You’ve done nothing to show that in this thread. I’ve never seen anybody objectively show that some religions are worse than others.

                Are you a libertarian? Don’t you think people are better at making choices for themselves–even if just for qualitative reasons–than other people are at making choices for them? You understand that people chose to follow this religion because they want to, right?

                If you’re claiming that Islam is objectively worse than other religions, you’re not going to impose that on other people, are you? Are you trying to make qualitative choices for other people because of what you see as objectively better?

                1. Religion is not always an individual choice. In many Muslim societies people are shunned, jailed, or killed if they change religions.

                  There’s nothing un-libertarian about disliking Islam. It’s the clearly most anti-libertarian of the major religions. As for objectively showing it, just look at Muslim countries on civil liberties, economic success (outside of the oil-rich states), and popular support for terrorism.

                  1. “It’s the clearly most anti-libertarian of the major religions.”

                    On this I do have to agree. There have been few groups more offensive to the idea of liberty than the Taliban, as an example.

                    But I also think it is a mistake to think that the Taliban represents the whole Muslim world and dismiss all Muslims as violent barbarians. People who call themselves Christians in some of your less civilized parts of Africa and South America also do some very barbaric things, but that is no cause to condemn Christianity or all Christians.

          2. Uh, yeah, sure.

            1. (My 12:30 was directed at Acosmist)

    2. Fer cryin’ out loud, it’s a regional ethnic conflict.

      We can thank the British and French for the stupid way they carved up the Ottoman Empire. No doubt, American stupidity in Iraq ignited an ethnic conflict in the region, and then the Arab Spring threw kerosene on that fire…

      What’d you expect to happen to the children?

      1. So true – I do wish the British and the French would take some responsibility for the mess they made, rather than constantly reprimand the rest of the world for not dealing with it properly.

        1. Except that the Ottoman Empire was carved up, what, at the end of WWI? So there’s nobody in power that had anything to do with that. That’s starting to get into the same mindset that demands reparations for long-past historical events where neither the perpetrators nor the victims are still alive.

            1. Yeah, but it isn’t really about going after the people who made the mistakes. It’s about fixing the mistakes.

              We have bad borderlines drawn. We have ethnic minorities in charge of vast majorities.

              Those problems persist even if the culprits are long since gone. It isn’t about blaming whomever; it’s about addressing some of those problems.

              The problems sure aren’t going away just because the people who caused them died.

              1. So then what causes the terrible civil liberties and support for terrorism in Saudi Arabia? Not bad borders drawn by colonialists.

                1. Largely a political need to appear religiously fanatical, as that’s how the Saudi family came into power in the first place, and they have been perceived as lacking sufficient holiness, in their obvious corruption and royal decadence, to be the guardians of the two holy cities.

                  The Saudis are shitheads. No argument here.

          1. Here’s an example of a WWI sequence of events:

            1) British Army promises independence to Arabs in return for their help against Ottomans.
            2) French undermine said attempts to grant Arabs independence.
            3) British and French seize Levant from Ottomans and carve it up into “mandate” governments, none of which are independent Arab states.
            4) Britain grants a significant portion of the land heretofore promised to Arabs to found state of Israel.

            All the people involved in this sequence of events are dead. Did the influence of the events cease upon their death?

            Like Ken says, it’s not about punishing the people who made the mistakes, it’s about understanding what happened and why and how it influences what is going on now, beyond simply “whoa, those crazy Muslims sure are violent!”

            1. All of that is true, but those crazy Muslims are still violent.

              1. Still disagree. I’ve known many Muslims. Not one that I’ve known would hurt a fly.

  3. Jesus Christ, Feeney!

    You hates the rebels to pieces–we get it already.

    I heard the rebels drink too much at parties, leave their rear porch light on all night, drive under the speed limit in the fast lane on the freeway, don’t call their moms on Mother’s Day, eat endangered species on purpose, don’t support gay marriage, pick their noses and eat it, talk during movies, wear their shorts with their boxers hanging out, listen to Nickleback because they like it, make fart jokes during business meetings, berate children for being childish, and think OJ was innocent, too!

    I hope the UN didn’t spend too much of my tax money preparing a report that says civil wars are bad for children, but if I had to pay for it? Then, yes, I hope everyone now has been disabused of the notion that no one will get hurt in a violent insurrection to overthrow an intractable and vicious dictator.

    1. They don’t bring their own beer to parties, either.

    2. They don’t password protect their WiFi, the scum.

    3. leave their rear porch light on all night,

      Is this true? Then death to them!

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