UN commission calls on Turkey to rein in allies involved in arbitrary detention and torture in Syria

Widespread abuses continue despite reduction in major violence after ceasefire in Idlib

FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 7, 2020 file photo released by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gestures while speaking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during their talks in Damascus, Syria. U.N.-backed investigators in the 21st report from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, pointed Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, to signs that Syria’s government continues to perpetrate rape, torture and murder as the country’s nine-year conflict grinds on, while citing possible war crimes by a Turkey-backed coalition of rebel groups and calling on Ankara to do more to help prevent them. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
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Syrian government forces are continuing to rape, torture and kill despite reductions in large-scale fighting following a March ceasefire, UN investigators reported on Tuesday.

The 21st report from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that nearly all parties in the nine-year civil war were involved in kidnapping and imprisoning people to instil fear and suppress dissent among civilians or to make money.

The report said that a Turkey-backed coalition of rebel groups could also be responsible for war crimes and urged Ankara to do more to prevent them.

“For nearly a decade all calls to protect women, men, boys and girls have been ignored,” said commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro. “There are no clean hands in this conflict but the status quo cannot endure.”

The commission said there were reasonable grounds to conclude the government of President Bashar Al Assad was responsible for crimes against humanity including “murder, torture, sexual violence and imprisonment”.

In large parts of government-controlled areas, civilians were being stopped from returning to their homes, it said.

The report highlighted an increase in assassinations, sexual violence against women and girls and the seizing of property. “Civilian suffering is a constant and personal feature of this crisis,” it said.

As well as the attacks on civilians, satellite pictures showed how invaluable Unesco world heritage sites have been destroyed and looted, according to the 25-page report.

The report was based on evidence including more than 500 interviews, satellite imagery and documents covering the first half of 2020 while a ceasefire has largely held in the rebel-controlled Idlib region since March.

The commission said Syria faced new difficulties from Covid-19, the parlous economic situation and stiff new sanctions by the US. It urged countries to take back women and children held by their thousands in squalid camps designed for ISIS militants.

"All parties in Syria detain civilians without a scintilla of evidence or due process,” said Hanny Megally, one of the commissioners. “All those arbitrarily deprived of their liberty must be released.”

The three-person panel has been charged with the UN to investigate and record all breaches of international law since March 2011 in Syria.