Soldiers loyal to President Bashar Assad, as well as militants of the Islamic State, “deliberately targeted” civilians, “causing immense suffering,” an independent commission of inquiry, established by the United Nations to investigate potential war crimes and human rights abuses in Syria said, in a report published Wednesday.
“Hundreds of civilians are dying each day as the fighting goes on with no regard to law or to conscience,” Brazilian diplomat and legal scholar Paulo Pinheiro, who chaired the four member commission, said.
The report said that, in April and May, government forces had used chemical agents, most likely chlorine, in eight separate incidents in western Syria. While the United States has previously accused Assad of using banned chemical weapons, this is the first time the U.N. has done so.
The commission also reported widespread, and systematic, killings and torture of civilians in the cities of Aleppo and Raqqa by the Islamic State, formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which now controls vast swathes of north and eastern Syria.
“Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle on Fridays in Ar Raqqah and ISIS-controlled areas of Aleppo governorate,” the report said. “Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheading or shooting in the head at close range… Bodies are placed on public display, often on crucifixes, for up to three days, serving as a warning to local residents.”
The commission also found that children as young as six were being recruited by the Islamic State as well as by pro-government fighters.
“Multiple accounts from Aleppo describe children aged between 6 and 13 used by Government forces as part of coordinated military operations to locate armed group fighters prior to attack,” the report said.
The report added that the international community has failed to protect civilians in Syria. “(This) has been matched on the ground by an abandonment of even the pretense of an adherence to norms of international law.”
The report, which marks the third anniversary of the establishment of the commission, is scheduled to be presented on Sept. 16 at the 27th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.