A United Nations investigation has found that various parties, including the Syrian government and rebels, Turkey-backed fighters and the United States, may have committed “war crimes” in the country’s civil war.
The report, released on Wednesday, September 11 said that some U.S. air strikes and nighttime raids by the U.S.-backed local Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS in the country’s northeast may qualify as indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
The report also reiterated charges that the Syrian government’s ongoing assault on Idlib, backed by Russia, has caused a “devastating human rights and humanitarian catastrophe” with pro-regime “striking dozens of hospitals, educational facilities, markets, schools, bakeries and agricultural lands.”
“Such attacks may amount to the war crime of deliberately attacking protected objects and intentionally attacking medical personnel,” the report read.
The report said Syrian rebel groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Jaysh al-Izza have likewise been firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian neighborhoods.
The U.N. investigation also reiterated a charge of war crimes against Turkey-backed forces in the Kurdish enclave of Efrin. The documented crimes include allegedly extorting the local population, “hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture … and pillage.” The report also said that insurgent attacks by groups linked to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) were killing civilians.
Regarding U.S. operations, the investigation focused on air strikes in support of the YPG-led SDF as it advanced on the Islamic State’s final pocket in Syria’s east earlier this year during the final phase of Operation Jazeera Storm.
The report cites an airstrike in early January on a residential home near Sha’afah, south of Hajin, that killed 16 civilians, including a number of children. The Islamic State used civilian-occupied buildings for military operations during the SDF’s campaign, but states that “the Commission found no indication of any ISIL presence or military target in the wider area of the building struck at the time of the attack.”
“The evidence obtained regarding this incident indicated that international coalition forces failed to employ the necessary precautions to discriminate adequately between military objectives and civilians.”
“The Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that international coalition forces may not have directed their attacks at a specific military objective, or failed to do so with the necessary precaution,” the report said.
“Launching indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime in cases in which such attacks are conducted recklessly.”
The report also notes an alleged U.S. airstrike on 29 January that struck a gathering of women and children preparing to leave ISIS-held territory and turn themselves over to the SDF.
James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy to the Coalition to defeat-ISIS, rebuffed the findings on Thursday.
“We take extreme care in every military operation,” Jeffrey told journalists in Geneva when asked about the report, AFP reported.
“We do not accept the findings of that particular body,” he said.
The U.N. report also detailed reports of civilian casualties during ongoing nighttime raids by SDF special operations units in Syria’s east, where ISIS sleeper cells continue to coordinate insurgent attacks on the local Coalition-backed authorities.
In one late-night raid, two Coalition helicopters circling a building ordered women to come out separately from the men, according to the report.
“Afterwards, the men from the house were ordered to leave. While the exact unfolding of events is under investigation, three men and one pregnant woman, all reportedly unarmed, were subsequently shot by SDF. The following day, villagers protested against SDF and reportedly burned down SDF checkpoints,” the U.N. report read.
The SDF are perceived as less popular in Syria’s majority-Arab east than in some Kurdish-majority areas. Such raids have led to protests and riots in Deir Ezzor province over perceived mistreatment and corruption by the U.S.-backed forces and affiliated political bodies.
U.S.-led Coalition troops and the SDF control a swath of northeast Syria, mostly on the east side of the Euphrates river. The Syrian government has recaptured most of the rest of the country on the west side of the river with the military support of Russia and Iran. The last rebel holdout in Idlib province is slowly collapsing as pro-regime forces advance in an offensive declared earlier this year.
Syria’s civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced several million others.