UN-backed experts point to new war crimes in Syria conflict

Investigators commissioned by the UN’s top human rights body say Syrian government forces and their Russian allies bombarded civilian sites in Idlib province indiscriminately, while rebels tortured and executed civilians in recent months, acts amounting to war crimes on both sides.

The findings of the latest report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria span the period from November to June. It’s part of a nearly decade-long effort to chronicle human rights abuses and violations in hopes that perpetrators might one day be brought to justice over the country’s devastating nine-year civil war.

The report focused on Idlib province, the last major rebel-held bastion in Syria and the site of an exodus of over a million civilians. They were displaced amid an intensified Russian and Syrian government offensive, as well as torture and other rights violations by UN-designated terrorist groups.

“The commission has said time and again that Idlib is a ticking time bomb — and this report lays out what human suffering ensues after a partial detonation,” commission chair Paulo Pinheiro told reporters. “The people of Idlib are trapped, scarred by fighting and abuses by all sides over the course of the conflict, and forced to live in terror.”

The exodus of civilians took place over several months, in the run-up to a ceasefire in March that has been largely holding.

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The commission reported on over 50 attacks that impacted hospitals, schools, markets and homes with both air and ground attacks — some involving the use of cluster munitions. It said in a statement these attacks amount to “war crimes of launching indiscriminate attacks and deliberate attacks on protected objects.”

The main al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, “detained, tortured and executed civilians expressing dissenting opinions, including journalists,” the commission said. “HTS, moreover, indiscriminately shelled densely populated civilian areas, spreading terror amongst civilians living in government-held areas.”

The commission is expected to present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on July 14-15.

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