Crimes Against Children in Syria
February 8, 2014
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A recent UN report has presented evidence of recruitment of child soldiers, and sexual violence and killing of children in the current crisis in Syria. The report details atrocities committed between March 1, 2011 to November 15, 2013, claiming that over 10,000 children have been killed in less than three years.
Witnesses have reported that abuses against children detained by government authorities included “beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives”. While boys aged 12 to 17 years have been trained, armed and used as combatants for rebel forces.
While the UN has in past accused both the government and rebel alliance of crimes committed against children, this is the first report that has been presented directly to the UNSC on the issue. Given the outstanding evidence provided in the report, is it possible that the UNSC, which has thus far been incapable of providing a response to the conflict due to the polarizing interests of the p5, will be able to pass a directive that would respond directly to the atrocities committed against children? One of the main excuses Russia and China have used to rule against resolutions developed by the UNSC have placed too much responsibility on the Syrian government for atrocities committed, rather than acknowledging crimes perpetrated by rebel groups. The report, however, suggests that both sides of the conflict are to blame for these atrocities: the government in perpetrating sexual violence and torture of children, and rebel groups for coercing children into joining their militias. Understanding that both sides are being held accountable, will this entice Russia and China to vote in favor of a resolution that specifically addresses atrocities committed against children?
Furthermore, how might this report affect the United States’ stance on providing assistance to the Syrian Opposition? A State Department spokesman of the United States condemned the use of child soldiers, stating “We thoroughly vet recipients of our assistance in Syria. The leadership of the moderate armed opposition has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to upholding international human rights standards.” However, the report cites the Western-backed Free Syrian Army is guilty of recruitment of child soldiers.
While it is unlikely that the ICC will become involved in this situation due to the polarization of the UNSC, how can this report contribute to taking punitive measures against “big fish” perpetrators of crimes against children on both sides of this conflict?