Arab War Crimes Must be Punished

An astonishing exposition of the horrors of Arab behavior was issued on August 13, 2014 and published on August 27, by a most unlikely source -- a committee established by the UN Human Rights Council.

The committee, headed by the Brazilian diplomat Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, was set up on August 22, 2011 to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic. In its devastating report the committee portrays in detail the monstrous behavior of all the Arab parties fighting in the conflict in Syria, now a conflict involving countless actors and frontlines.

The different parties have engaged in violence, with extremism fuelling the conflict’s heightened brutality. The fighting has engulfed civilian areas with the result that any possibility of a normal life has been destroyed. The impact has been particularly grave for women and children whose basic rights are infringed by the conduct of the parties. Human rights and international humanitarian law have been flouted. Clashes and deliberate actions have caused civilian deaths. The livelihoods of entire communities have been jeopardized.

What is appalling about the war in Syria is the inhumane conduct of the warring parties. The forces perpetrate massacres, conduct widespread attacks on civilians, systematically committing murder, torture, rape, sexual violence, hostage taking, and enforced disappearance amounting to crimes against humanity. The gross violations of human rights include not only these war crimes but also using children in hostilities and targeting civilians.

The conflict in Gaza has revealed the war crimes committed by Hamas in using civilians -- and especially children -- as human shields to prevent Israeli retaliation, and using public places, schools, mosques, hospitals from which to launch rockets and missiles. The revelations about show that this inhumane behavior is present in Syria. The warring parties have disregarded the special protection accorded to hospitals and medical and humanitarian personnel. They have engaged in indiscriminate and disproportionate air bombing and shelling that has led to mass civilian casualties. Terror has been spread by car bombings in civilian areas. The Assad regime used poison gas.

In view of the attention now given by the mass media to ISIS or ISIL, it is not surprising to learn of the torture, murder, and forcible displacement of people committed by the terrorist group, the self-styled Islamic State.

ISIS has been responsible for a great deal of this inhumane behavior by committing executions, amputations of hands, lashings of civilians in public squares, and prohibitions. Those arrested have no access to lawyers and have none of the rights of due process. The Islamic state forbids smoking, card or domino playing, alcohol, and almost all music shops. Men have been lashed for trading during hours of prayer. They have also been flogged for accompanying in public an “improperly dressed” female relative. Women are forced to cover the face with veils.

ISIS executions in public spaces are a common spectacle on Fridays. Most of the executions are by beheading. Residents, including children, are encouraged, even forced to attend. Bodies are placed on public display, sometimes on crucifixes, for up to three days, serving as a warning to residents.

The conflict in Gaza has been the subject of reports by more than 1500 journalists, and the photos of casualties have been displayed on a worldwide basis. The “international community” similarly has been concerned with and usually critical of the activities of Israel. Both the media and political leaders have been reluctant to focus in any real way on the Syrian horrors. The UN report on the behavior of the Syrian warring groups makes it essential that they do so.

It is also time that the states who still deliver shipments of arms, artillery, and aircraft, or contribute logistical and strategic assistance to the Assad regime, or those who support armed groups with weapons and funding, reconsider their actions. If not, they also can be held responsible for abetting the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of human rights.

The UN report deals with the crimes committed in a number of different ways. Considerable attention is given to the widespread attacks against the civilian population, against localities and persons. People are murdered, tortured, held in detention centers, and deprived of food and medical care. Government forces have systematically targeted the civilian infrastructure, markets, shops, hospitals, schools, places of worship, and public places. Chemical agents, especially chlorine gas, were used in various areas, including Kafr Zeita, Al-Tamana’a, and Tal Minnis.

In general, Syrians have been denied economic, social, cultural rights, and basic freedoms. They have limited access to food water, shelter, education, and health care. Humanitarian assistance has been delayed.

It is distressing to read of the treatment of children and women. Children have been killed, injured, and maimed. They have been used by the Assad regime as messengers, spies, and guards. Children between 6 and 13 have been forced into military operations. Schools have been turned into shelters. Even worse, ISIS has set up training camps to recruit children for armed roles, to give them weapons training, and to deploy them in active combat, including suicide missions.

Special violence, rape, and assaults of women are common, particularly in detention centers. By this behavior the Syrians have committed both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Moreover, women have been arrested and detained to force them to surrender male relatives.

The world has become aware of the hostage taking of American journalists. It is now clear that both the Assad regime and the anti-government forces have engaged in hundreds of such violations of international humanitarian and criminal law. It is even more horrifying that the majority of victims are women and children.

The “international community” has failed to protect the Syrian population and has done little to prevent an alarming number of atrocities committed by these Arab parties. The world must act to counter this inhumane behavior and see that the Arab parties, the Assad regime and the anti-government forces, especially ISIS, comply with human rights and international humanitarian law.