Syrian Arab Republic

The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (A/67/845–S/2013/245) issued on 15 May 2013.

The Syrian conflict has entered its third year. The situation for children has deteriorated in all areas of concern. Among the well in excess of 70,000 people estimated to have been killed to date, many thousands are children. Sizeable numbers of children have been killed and gravely injured in shelling and fighting, while thousands more have seen family members killed or injured or have lived through shelling, missile firing and heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of their homes, schools and hospitals by the government forces, resulting in severe psychological distress. The use of terror tactics by armed opposition groups, such as car and other bombs, in civilian areas, including near schools, and the association of children with such armed groups rose sharply over the reporting period.

Children in the Syrian Arab Republic continued to be killed, injured and maimed by heavy artillery, air strikes, crossfire and explosive remnants of war as a direct result of the conflict in incidents that occurred in Damascus, Homs, Dera’a and Aleppo, among others. Refugee children inside the Syrian Arab Republic have also been directly affected. Palestinian and other refugee children have been killed, injured, forced to flee their homes and live in need in shelters for internally displaced persons. Government air strikes and bombardment predominated in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups. Government forces and allied shabbiha militia continued incursions in areas of contested control. On 25 May 2012, government soldiers and shabbiha members reportedly entered El Houleh village, Homs governorate, and killed 100 civilians, including at least 41 children. The local school, where people had sought refuge, was reportedly bombed by government forces in July 2012, resulting in the death of two children.

The use of heavy weaponry and the alleged use of cluster munitions in heavily populated areas resulted in child and other civilian casualties. In a village near Ar Raqqah, survivors alleged that dozens of cluster munitions had been dropped on their homes over a period of days in March 2013. A witness recounted seeing two boys, aged 9 and 13 years, suffer injury and the loss of their hands and limbs when they picked up unexploded cluster bomblets. Further reports were received of cluster munitions being used in Hamah, Ar Rastan, Mohassan, Aleppo and Idlib. Although government forces were allegedly responsible for most of those casualties, opposition groups have also reportedly acquired and used heavy weapons against the civilian population.

The United Nations also received reports of opposition armed groups engaging in terror tactics, such as car and other bombings, near schools and in public places, resulting in the death of and injury to children and other civilians. It was not possible to attribute responsibility for specific incidents that led to child casualties, owing to the nature of the operational structure of armed opposition groups in the Syrian Arab Republic and the lack of access for the United Nations to carry out investigations.

Detention, torture and ill-treatment of children for alleged association with the opposition continued to be a worrying trend. In that regard, there were a number of accounts of sexual violence against boys to obtain information or a confession by the State forces, largely but not exclusively by members of the State intelligence services and the Syrian Armed Forces. Child detainees, largely boys and as young as 14 years of age, suffered similar or identical methods of torture as adults, including electric shock, beatings, stress positions and threats and acts of sexual torture. For example, a 16-year-old boy from Kafr Nabl, Idlib governorate, reported witnessing the sexual assault and killing of his 14-year-old friend while in detention. According to witnesses, a number of children continue to be held as ransom for parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to force them to turn themselves in to the State authorities.

Information was received that the national armed forces used children as human shields. In an incident in May 2012, the national armed forces reportedly raided the local primary school in As Safira, Aleppo governorate, took hostage 30 boys and 25 girls between 10 and 13 years of age and walked them in front of their forces in order to flush out a local Free Syrian Army unit that had recently taken the town. There were also a number of allegations of use of children between 15 and 17 years of age by shabbiha members in village incursions in Hamah governorate in January 2013.

The United Nations has received a growing number of reports of use of children by armed opposition groups, such as the Free Syrian Army. From accounts received, child association with the Free Syrian Army is often linked to an older relative facilitating recruitment or in instances in which the child has lost all members of his or her family. It is also linked to the fact that there is no central recruitment authority among the Free Syrian Army and that many forces are clan-based or village-based. Consequently, children, on average between 15 and 17 years of age, have been used in both combat and support roles, such as food and water portering and loading bullets into cartridges. A former Free Syrian Army combatant of Kafr Zeita village stated to the United Nations that children as young as 14 years were largely used for loading bullets, delivering food and evacuating the injured. Medical staff reported treating boys between 16 and 17 years of age injured in combat who were associated with the Free Syrian Army. For example, a 16-year-old boy receiving medical treatment for wounds suffered in the Salah-ad-Din neighbourhood of Aleppo recounted that he had spent three months with a Free Syrian Army unit. He had been injured in fighting against government forces in the first week of March 2013. It should also be noted that accounts stated that some Free Syrian Army units, including in Dayr Az Zawr city, had rejected children who had approached them to join or had released associated children when so requested by their families.

The United Nations received information suggesting that schools and hospitals were targeted by the Government. Reports were also received of schools being used and damaged by armed opposition groups. A total of 167 education personnel, including 69 teachers, were reported to have been killed as at the end of February 2013, while 2,445 schools were reported to have been damaged. Some 2,000 schools are being used as shelters for internally displaced persons. In some areas, children have not attended school in more than 18 months. Palestinian children residing in refugee camps in the Syrian Arab Republic are equally affected by the conflict. The education system in particular has been severely affected. As at April 2013, 69 of 118 UNRWA schools were closed, with only 23,700 of more than 67,000 enrolled pupils attending classes.

Reports indicated that schools continued to be bombed, shelled and raided by government forces. On the other hand, several parties to the conflict were responsible for using schools for military purposes. There are numerous incidents of government forces entering schools and using them either as a temporary base or as a detention facility. The Free Syrian Army allegedly used schools in a number of areas as bases, makeshift hospitals and, in some instances, ammunition storage and detention centres. In one example, Free Syrian Army elements in Kafr Zeita, Idlib governorate, used two classrooms of the Al Shahid Wahid Al Jusef High School as barracks for a number of days while children were attending classes.

The United Nations received further information that hospitals and makeshift hospitals had been bombed and, in some cases, specifically targeted by government forces, allegedly because they housed wounded Free Syrian Army elements. Reports have also been received of government forces entering hospitals and arresting young men and boys suspected of being Free Syrian Army sympathizers. In one instance, eyewitnesses stated that men and boys who sought assistance at the Kendi State Hospital in Aleppo were arrested for association with the opposition before entering. The hospital also housed a government sniper position. Attacks or threats of attacks against medical personnel, in addition to reprisals for medically assisting those suspected of links to the opposition, were also documented.

As noted in my report on sexual violence in conflict (A/67/792-S/2013/149), United Nations monitors received credible allegations of sexual violence against women and girls, in particular during raids conducted by the Syrian military in Homs and other areas, but also in detention facilities or at checkpoints. The United Nations is also concerned about allegations of abduction and rape of women and girls by armed opposition groups in cities, villages and neighbourhoods perceived to be in favour of the Government.

The conflict has also created an environment in which it has become extremely difficult to reach affected populations for humanitarian purposes. Medical care remained inadequate in contested areas, with many children succumbing to their wounds for lack of proper or timely attention. Lastly, fighting continued to force populations to leave their homes, with the latest United Nations figures indicating that there are more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and 4.25 million persons displaced inside the country, half of whom are children.

My Special Representative was invited by the Government to assess first-hand the conflict’s impact on children, to discuss strengthening the monitoring of grave violations against children in the Syrian Arab Republic and to better advocate child protection. During her visit, she met relevant ministers, the United Nations country team, civil society members, internally displaced persons and children. In this regard, I welcome the Government’s commitment to cooperating with the United Nations in monitoring grave child rights violations and to establishing an interministerial committee on children affected by conflict. The Government has also informed my Special Representative that it will take measures to ensure the education of displaced children and to rebuild destroyed or damaged school facilities. My Special Representative was also able to reach out to Free Syrian Army commanders in Homs and Rif Damascus governorates regarding their responsibility to respect international humanitarian law and prevent association of children with their forces. In addition, I am encouraged that my Special Representative received a communication from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in which it committed itself to collaborating with the United Nations to halt and prevent the recruitment and use of children.

Parties in the Syrian Arab Republic

  1. Free Syrian Army (a)
  2. Government forces, including the Syrian Armed Forces, the intelligence forces and the shabbiha militia (b, c, d)
(*) The parties underlined have been in the annexes for at least five years and are therefore considered persistent perpetrators. (a) Parties that recruit and use children. (b) Parties that kill and maim children. (c) Parties that commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children. (d) Parties that engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals.