UN: Syrian children detained, tortured and used as human shields

June 13th, 2012 - 11:33 pm ICT by BNO News  

NEW YORK (BNO NEWS) — Pro-government forces in Syria have detained, tortured and used young children as human shields during the ongoing conflict, which is now being called a civil war by at least one senior official, according to a report released by the United Nations (UN) on Tuesday.

The UN report said it found credible evidence of children as young as 9 who were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, by the Syrian armed forces, the intelligence forces, and the Shabiha militia. Schools have also been regularly used as military bases and detention centers.

The evidence was gathered in March by a technical mission which conducted interviews with victims and witnesses in refugee camps, villages and hospitals in the region. “In almost all recorded cases, children were among the victims of military operations by Government forces [..] in their ongoing conflict with the opposition,” the report said.

In one documented incident in March, children as young as 8 were used as human shields when government forces surrounded the village of Ayn l’Arouz in Idlib province. Witnesses reported that several dozen children between the ages of 8 and 13 years were forcibly taken from their homes and placed in front of the windows of buses which carried military personnel into the raid on the village.

The UN report was put together to report on child victims worldwide in armed conflicts during the year 2011, but the organization said the gravity of incidents reported in Syria during the first few months of this year required their inclusion in the report. It follows previous UN reports which documented similar incidents involving children.

The report goes on to detail how dozens of children as young as 14 years of age were tortured while in detention. “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,” the report said. “At least one witnesses said that he had seen a young boy of approximately 15 years of age succumb to his repeated beatings.”

The children were detained and tortured because their relatives were accused of being members of the opposition or the Free Syrian Army (FSA), or they themselves were suspected of being associated with the opposition. Previous UN reports have documented children being tortured by government forces until they admitted their relatives were members of the opposition.

But while children have been used as human shields by pro-government forces, the UN found no evidence that children under the age of 18 were being enlisted into the armed forces. The mission, however, did find credible evidence that the armed opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, has recruited a number of children, despite stated FSA policy of not recruiting any child under 17 years of age.

Also on Tuesday, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous for the first time referred to the ongoing crisis in Syria as a civil war, noting increasing violence and the Syrian government having lost large chunks of territory to the opposition. “I think there is massive increase of the level of violence,” he said. “So massive indeed that, in a way, its implicate some change of nature.”

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