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New UN report depicts ‘relentless assault’ on civilians inside ISIL-controlled Syria

Syrian Kurdish refugees cross the border into Turkey after fleeing fighting around the city of Kobane in north-east Syria.
UNHCR/I. Prickett
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross the border into Turkey after fleeing fighting around the city of Kobane in north-east Syria.

New UN report depicts ‘relentless assault’ on civilians inside ISIL-controlled Syria

Shocking accounts of the use of terror by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to subjugate Syrians living under its control were revealed by United Nations human rights investigators today who said the group’s “calculated use of public brutality” to spread fear routinely includes public beheading, shooting and stoning of civilians and captured fighters.

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry’s latest report, Rule of Terror: Living under ISIS in Syria, paints a devastating picture of the methods used by ISIS – also known as ISIL or Da’esh – concluding that the group “seeks to subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey.”

Based on over 300 first-hand accounts from victims and eyewitnesses, the Commission’s report provides a unique insight from Syrian men, women and children who fled or who are living in ISIL-controlled areas. The paper was also informed by the publications, photographs and video footage distributed by the armed group.

“Those that fled consistently described being subjected to acts that terrorize and aim to silence the population,” said Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the four-member Commission said in a press release today, which urges international action to hold the perpetrators of such actions, including ISIL commanders named in the report, accountable possible “crimes against humanity.”

The report says that executions, amputations and lashings in public spaces have become a regular occurrence. The display of mutilated bodies has only further terrorised and traumatised Syrians, in particular children.

“With the capacity and means to attack the civilian population on a large scale, ISIL has carried out mass victimization against civilians, including segments of the population on the basis of gender, religion and ethnicity,” declared the report.

According to the report, ISIL is aiming to exclude Syrian women and girls from public life. Women have been killed, often by stoning. ISIL regulations dictate what women must wear, with whom they may socialise, and where they may work. Distressing accounts were collected of forced marriages of girls as young as 13 to ISIL fighters.

The paper also details ISIL’s horrific abuse of Yazidi women and girls, some of whom, after being abducted in Iraq in September 2014, were taken into Syria and sold into sexual slavery.

Children have also been the victims, perpetrators and witnesses of ISIL executions. The armed group employs education as a tool of indoctrination, aiming propaganda at children to foster a new generation of recruits. In Raqqah city, children are gathered for screenings of videos depicting mass executions of Government soldiers, desensitising them to extreme violence, the report says.

Where ISIL has occupied areas with diverse ethnic and religious communities, minorities have been forced either to assimilate or flee.

“There is a manifest pattern of violent acts directed against certain groups – notably Christians, Shias and Kurds - with the intent to curtail and control their presence within ISIS areas,” said Commissioner Vitit Muntarbhorn.

The group has also attacked journalists and activists trying to communicate the daily suffering of those living under its yoke. Scores have been abducted, disappeared, tortured and executed.

The paper also details ISIL’s killing of captured belligerents during its recent military assaults, including the killings of over 200 captured soldiers from Tabqa airbase in Ar-Raqqah and the killing of hundreds of members of the Al-Sheitat tribe in Dayr Az-Zawr, both in August 2014.

As an armed group bound by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and customary international law, ISIL has violated its obligations toward civilians and persons hors de combat, amounting to war crimes, the Commission said in its report.

“The commanders of ISIS have acted wilfully, perpetrating these war crimes and crimes against humanity with clear intent of attacking persons with awareness of their civilian or hors de combat status,” said Commissioner Carla del Ponte. “They are individually criminally responsible for these crimes.”

The paper recommends engaging international accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), to hold individuals, including ISIL commanders, responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Commission emphasized that the lack of a political process had allowed extremism to fester and it was urgent to reach a sustainable solution to the ongoing armed conflict in Syria through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process.

The Commission, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, Ms. Carla del Ponte and Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was established on 22 August 2011 by the Human Rights Council through resolution S-17/1 adopted at its 17th special session with a mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic.