UN investigators tie US coalition, Russian forces to high number of civilian deaths

UN investigators tie US coalition, Russian forces to high number of civilian deaths
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United Nations investigators said in a report Wednesday that air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces have killed, wounded or displaced many civilians in Syria.

The report from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said it investigated “numerous previous attacks by the United States-led international coalition that resulted in death or injury to civilians” and found in at least one strike “the high number of civilian casualties who were overwhelmingly children and the specific statements of eyewitnesses [indicate] the exclusive presence of civilians at the scene of the incident.” 

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“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 investigators wrote. 

"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 also noted. “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 accused Syrian and pro-government Russian forces of waging a deadly air campaign that appeared to target medical facilities, schools and other sites that could also amount to war crimes.

Investigators added that civilians in government-controlled areas were “arbitrarily arrested and detained” and deprived of “adequate access to water, electricity and education.” 

The eight-year conflict, which started out as an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad and has since devolved into a proxy war, has produced one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, having killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and forced 13 million to flee their homes. 

The Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by air power from the U.S.-led coalition, has waged a two-pronged fight against ISIS and the government in Damascus, though the report says the campaign has resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties.

The government, aided by Russian airstrikes, has hammered rebel-held areas in an attempt to reimpose Damascus’s control over the entire country, also resulting in the deaths of countless civilians.

“Pro-government forces airdropped between two and four missiles on a fish market and primary school for girls in Jisr al-Shughur” in Idlib, in one instance in May covered in the report, killing at least eight civilians.

“Such attacks may amount to the war crime of deliberately attacking protected objects and intentionally attacking medical personnel.” 

The Syrian government has denied any accusations it targets civilians, saying it only goes after armed groups with links to organizations like al Qaeda.

The report covers the first half of 2019 and is based on nearly 300 interviews in the region and from Geneva and analysis of satellite imagery, photographs and videos.