A 23-page report released by the UN Commission of Inquiry said that through the widespread and systematic" bombardment of Eastern Ghouta and the continued denial of food and medicine, pro-regimeforces perpetrated a "crime against humanity."

A member of Syrian forces of President Bashar al Assad stands guard near destroyed buildings in Jobar, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria April 2, 2018.
A member of Syrian forces of President Bashar al Assad stands guard near destroyed buildings in Jobar, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria April 2, 2018. (Reuters)

The United Nations said Wednesday that the Syrian regime and rebel forces both committed war crimes during the five-year regime siege of the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus and the two-month offensive to retake the area from insurgents earlier this year.

The UN Commission of Inquiry condemned Bashar al-Assad's "barbaric and medieval" methods to lay siege and forcefully capture Eastern Ghouta, and condemned what it called the "longest running siege in modern history," which affected some 265,000 people.

The UN commission said in a statement: “The siege and recapture of Eastern Ghouta was marked by war crimes, crimes against humanity.”

The 23-page report said Syrians were exposed to “immense physical and psychological harm” as they endured bombardment and deprivation which sometimes caused preventable deaths.

The report urged all parties to desist from resorting to sieges in the future.

“In March, the Human Rights Council requested an urgent, comprehensive, and independent inquiry into recent events in Eastern Ghouta. Today’s report traces the siege and recapture of Eastern Ghouta by pro-government (regime) forces,” it said.

Decrying the escalating military campaign of pro-government forces this February and April to recapture the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta, it said the aerial and ground bombardments claimed hundreds of lives, including women and children.

“In an effort to avoid the bombardments, terrified civilians relocated to makeshift basement shelters in February, where they subsisted for months underground in dire circumstances,” it added.

The report also faulted the rebels, saying that between February and April insurgents relentlessly fired mortar rounds into Damascus and nearby areas, killing and maiming hundreds of Syrian civilians.

The statement also quoted Paulo Pinheiro, the group’s chair, as saying: “It is completely abhorrent that besieged civilians were indiscriminately attacked, and systematically denied food and medicine.

“What is clear from the terminal phase of this siege is that no warring party acted to protect the civilian population.”

No justification for war crimes 

The statement added that the pro-regime forces which “perpetrated the crime against humanity of inhumane acts” caused mental and physical suffering.

Commissioner Hanny Megally was also quoted as saying: “Even if pro-government (regime) forces are bombing and starving the civilian population of Eastern Ghouta into submission, there can be no justification for the indiscriminate shelling of civilian-inhabited areas in Damascus.

“Such actions by armed groups and members of terrorist organisations also amount to war crimes.”

The commission said the report noted that by the time the Syrian regime declared the recapture of Eastern Ghouta on April 14, "some 140,000 individuals were displaced from their homes, tens of thousands of whom are being unlawfully interned by government (regime) forces in managed sites throughout Rif Damascus [province]."

The statement also cited the Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd as saying: “The blanket internment of all civilians who fled eastern Ghouta through humanitarian corridors, including women and children, is reprehensible.

“In many instances, the on-going internment of these individuals amounts to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and the unlawful confinement of tens of thousands of individuals.”

In line with the local truces and “evacuation agreements”, around 50,000 civilians were displaced to other governorates of Syria, Idlib and Aleppo.

The Syrian regime did not provide any aid to these governorates, the statement said.

It also added that according to the report, “cumulative physical and psychological harm”, which was created by the five-year-long siege of the regime, continued to leave negative impacts on hundreds of thousands of Syrians countrywide.

The commission’s report is set to be presented next Tuesday at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies