Children in Syria have been tortured, maimed and sexually abused by president Bashar al-Assad’s forces and recruited for combat by the rebels fighting to topple him, according to a new United Nations report.
The report highlights what UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon termed the “unspeakable suffering” experienced by children in the country’s near three-year-old conflict.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government missed another deadline for destroying its chemical weapons yesterday, but pledged to meet a final deadline of 30 June.
Under a timetable set up by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Syria was to have given up its stockpile of chemical weapons by yesterday. Last week, a US diplomat said Syria had only removed 4 per cent of its most deadly chemicals so far. All should have been removed by 31 December, 2013 under the framework.
Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal al-Mikdad rejected US criticism of its slow pace in moving the chemicals out of the country, calling the accusations “baseless and unfair”.
He claimed the US was to blame for the delay, because it was still supporting “terrorists” in Syria who were hindering the safe transport of the chemicals to the port of Latakia for removal out of the country. He said Syria is still co-operating and plans to meet the 30 June deadline.
The conflict has hit the country’s children hard.
The report, covering the period from March 2011 to November 2013, lists a litany of horrors that Syria’s children have suffered during the conflict.
The UN said government forces have been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children. Children as young as 11 have been detained by the authorities on suspicion of having links with armed groups.
Children in government custody have reportedly suffered beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shock and sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, the report said.
Allegations of sexual violence by opposition groups were also received, but the UN was unable to further investigate them due to lack of access to areas in rebel control, the report says.
While Mr Assad’s forces have used children as human shields in the fighting, the report also blasted rebels for “recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations”.
During the first two years of the conflict, most killings and maiming of children were attributed to government forces, the UN report said.