The United Nations has received reports of grave violations against children in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 and throughout the reporting period, continuing into 2012. In response to the need for United Nations verified information, my Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict sent a technical mission to the region to conduct interviews with victims and witnesses in refugee camps, villages and hospitals in the region in March 2012. In almost all recorded cases, children were among the victims of military operations by Government forces, including the Syrian Armed Forces, the intelligence forces and the Shabbiha militia, in their ongoing conflict with the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Children as young as 9 years of age were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill- treatment, including sexual violence, and use as human shields. Schools have been regularly raided and used as military bases and detention centres. Information obtained by the technical mission is in line with the findings of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.
Interviews with former members of the Syrian Armed Forces and the intelligence forces indicated that civilians, including children, were targeted by Government forces if they were residing in villages where members of FSA or other armed opposition groups were believed to be present or where deserters were hiding, or if they were seen fleeing the country seeking refuge. In one instance, a former member of the Syrian Armed Forces stated that, during protests in Tall Kalakh in December 2011, he was given an order by his commander to shoot without distinction, although the soldiers were aware that there were women and children among the protesters. During the armed break-up of the demonstrations, the witness saw three girls between approximately 10 and 13 years of age who had been killed by the Syrian Armed Forces. In another similar incident in Aleppo in the fourth quarter of 2011, a former member of the intelligence forces witnessed the killing of five children in a secondary school during demonstrations.
The grave violations continued into 2012 and although this is beyond the reporting period, the gravity of the incidents requires their inclusion in the report. Witness accounts described a particularly grave incident in the village of Ayn l’Arouz in the Jabal Azzawiyah in Idlib province. On 9 March 2012, Syrian Armed Forces, together with the intelligence forces and the Shabbiha militia, surrounded the village for an attack that lasted over a period of four days. Government forces entered the village on the first day and killed 11 civilians, including three boys aged between 15 and 17 years. Thirty-four persons, including two boys aged 14 and 16 years, and one 9-year-old girl, were arrested for interrogation about the suspected presence of deserters. Eventually, the village was reportedly left burned and 4 out of the 34 detainees were shot and burned, including the two boys aged 14 and 16 years.
There is no evidence of Government forces formally conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 18 years. However, the Syrian Armed Forces and its associated Shabbiha militia used children as young as 8 years on at least three separate occasions within the reporting period. In the incident mentioned above in the village of Ayn l’Arouz in March 2012, a witness stated that several dozen children, boys and girls ranging between the ages of 8 and 13 years, were forcibly taken from their homes. These children were subsequently reportedly used by soldiers and militia members as human shields, placing them in front of the windows of buses carrying military personnel into the raid on the village.
The United Nations collected dozens of accounts of eyewitnesses of both children as young as 14 years of age who were tortured while in detention, as well as former members of the Syrian Armed Forces who themselves were forced to torture or witness torture. The Shabbiha militia was also involved in the detention and torture of children, especially during military operations and often in makeshift detention cells in schools. Most child victims of torture described being beaten, blindfolded, subjected to stress positions, whipped with heavy electrical cables, scarred by cigarette burns and, in one recorded case, subjected to electrical shock to the genitals. At least one witness said that he had seen a young boy of approximately 15 years of age succumb to his repeated beatings. Children were detained and tortured because their siblings or parents were assumed to be members of the opposition or FSA, or they themselves were suspected of being associated with FSA. On one occasion, in May 2011, a 15-year-old boy was taken into custody by intelligence forces in the municipal building in Jisr Ash-Shughur and repeatedly beaten with heavy electrical cables during interrogation. The boy stated that there were at least 20 other children his age or younger held in detention.
The United Nations has received some credible allegations of the recruitment and use of children by armed opposition, including FSA and other armed groups, although FSA has a stated policy of not recruiting any child under 17 years of age. Various sources reported on young children association with FSA carrying guns and wearing camouflage uniforms. My Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict reminded all parties of their obligations under human rights and international humanitarian law.