UN panel accuses US-led coalition, Russia of large-scale deaths in Syria

United Nations’ war crimes investigators have accused both Russia and the U.S.-led coalition in Syria of causing mass civilian deaths during airstrikes conducted against either the Islamic State (ISIS) or other armed groups fighting to oust Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

The panel also concluded the al-Assad regime routinely used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.

Similarly, the committee also concluded the ISIS and militant groups were responsible for attacks on civilians.  Investigators say ISIS and insurgent groups regularly used civilians as human shields.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights, in its 15th report on the situation in Syria, 2017 witnessed two attacks carried out by Russia and the U.S.-led coalition, both of which killed over 230 civilians.

Pointing to a large body of evidence, UN investigators say a series of airstrikes conducted by Russian fix-wing aircraft on the rebel-held town of Atareb west of Aleppo in November 2017 killed 84 civilians and injured 150 others.

The report states it found no evidence the Russian aircraft deliberately targeted civilians, but Russia’s use of unguided bombs against areas which were densely populated could amount to a war crime.

“This attack may amount to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in death and injury to civilians.  This is the first incident where we have been able to nail it down to a particular Russian plane and be able to investigate on the ground what took place,” comission chariman, Paulo Pinheiro, told reporters.

In addition to Russian culpability for civilian deaths in the conflict, the UN report reserved criticism of the U.S.-led coalition for an attack on Raqqa in March 2017.  In an airstrike coalition forces claimed was targeting ISIS jihadists, the UN panel says over 150 were killed on an airstrike on a school.

The report says the school was a temporary shelter for displaced persons and no evidence exists to validate the coalition claim ISIS militants occupied the school.

Blasting the coalition for failing to verify intelligence prior to the strike on the school, the report concluded:

“(Coalition leadership) failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid or minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law.”

The result of over 500 interviews conducted by UN investigators, the team of fact-finders was not allowed into Syria and relied heavily on social media exchanges with victims and witnesses to the incidents.

The UN report also declared justice must be served in any peace agreement ending the conflict, now entering its eighth year.  The commission also emphasized no pardons or amnesties for crimes against humanity or gross human rights violations should be granted to those responsible for war crimes


[Reuters] [AP via U.S. News & World Report] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via steemKR]