UN adds Syria to list of countries killing children
UNITED NATIONS, June 13 — Syrian government forces and allied militia have killed, maimed, tortured and detained children as young as 9 years old, the United Nations said yesterday as Syria debuted on its “list of shame” of countries that abuse children in armed conflicts.
The UN special envoy for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said the United Nations had also received credible allegations that the armed opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, had also used children during the 15-month conflict.
“There’s been extraordinary violence against children in Syria,” Coomaraswamy told reporters.
“Children as young as 9 years of age were victims of killing and maiming, detention, torture, arbitrary arrest and were used as human shields by the Syrian government forces, including the Syrian armed forces, the intelligence forces and the shabiha militia,” she said.
Those forces have also regularly raided and used schools as military bases and detention centers, Coomaraswamy added.
The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March last year demanding greater freedom and inspired by Arab revolts that have toppled four veteran leaders.
But the protests have become overshadowed by an increasingly well-armed insurgency, fuelled by weapons from smugglers and defecting troops, and al Qaeda attacks.
The updated 2012 version of what the United Nations has dubbed the “list of shame” of countries that kill, recruit or sexually abuse children in armed conflicts, contains 52 states, including Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iraq, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. Libya was also added for the first time.
In Syria, Coomaraswamy said, “children as young as 14 years old (were) in detention being tortured by government forces with marks visibly on their bodies.”
“We have seen children, they have described to my technical team of being beaten, of being scarred ... and whipped with electrical cables. Cases of sexual torture were also recorded against these children,” she said.
“In a bus that was carrying military personnel the children were put up against the window so as to protect the bus from being attacked,” she added.
Coomaraswamy said the Syrian government in a letter had denied the allegations and questioned the sources of the claims.
She said that at the command level of the Free Syrian Army there was a policy against the recruitment of children, but this was happening in the field and senior officials needed to take more steps to prevent it.
UN monitors in Syria have also found that many of the victims of recent massacres in the Syrian towns of Houla and Mazraat al-Qubeir were children.
“It’s clearly a very disturbing finding in the report,” Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters yesterday. “But it is just yet another chapter in the barbarity that is being imposed by the Syrian regime on its own civilian population.”
The updated “list of shame,” released on Monday, is part of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Ban initially circulated the report to UN member states in April. This is the first time since the annual report was first published in 1996 that Syria has been included.
Ban’s report also described another worrying trend - the increasing use of girls and boys as suicide bombers. In 2011 alone, the report said, at least 11 children in Afghanistan and another 11 girls and boys in Pakistan were killed while conducting suicide attacks, some as young as 8 years old. — Reuters