UN say tactics used in Aleppo amount to war crimes

A report says methods are reminiscent of "medieval warfare"

UN say tactics used in Aleppo amount to war crimes

Mounds of rubble remain from what used to be high rise apartment buildings in the once rebel-held Ansari neighborhood of eastern Aleppo, Syria | Image: Hassan Ammar/AP/Press Association Images

A new report from the United Nations says tactics used in the battle for Aleppo city amount to war crimes.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic says “brutal tactics” were used by the parties during the fight for Aleppo.

It says tactics between July and December 2016 resulted in “unparalleled suffering for  Syrian men, women and children” and amount to war crimes.

Their report is based on 291 interviews - including with residents of Aleppo city, and the review of satellite imagery, photographs, videos and medical records.

The commission documents daily Syrian and Russian airstrikes against eastern Aleppo over several months, which steadily destroyed vital civilian infrastructure.

It says this resulted in “disastrous consequences for the civilian population”.

“By using brutal siege tactics reminiscent of medieval warfare to force surrender, government forces and their allies prevented the civilian population of eastern Aleppo city from accessing food and basic supplies while relentless airstrikes pounded the city for months, deliberately targeting hospitals and clinics, killing and maiming civilians, and reducing eastern Aleppo to rubble”, the report adds.

"No other purpose than to terrorise"

By late November 2016 when pro-government forces on the ground took control over eastern Aleppo, no functioning hospitals or other medical facilities remained.

“The intentional targeting of these medical facilities amounts to war crimes”, the commission concludes.

The three-person commission also notes how armed groups “indiscriminately” shelled civilian areas of western Aleppo city with improvised weapons.

It says a number of these attacks were carried out “without a clear military target” and “had no other purpose than to terrorise the civilian population”.

Commission chair Paulo Pinheiro said: “The violence in Aleppo documented in our report should focus the international community on the continued, cynical disregard for the laws of war by the warring parties in Syria.

“The deliberate targeting of civilians has resulted in the immense loss of human life, including hundreds of children”.

Use of chlorine

In one of the most horrific attacks investigated by the commission, it says the Syrian Air Force deliberately targeted a United Nations/Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy in Orum al-Kubra, the Aleppo countryside.

The attack killed 14 aid workers, destroyed 17 trucks carrying aid supplies, and led to the suspension of all humanitarian aid.

“Under no circumstances can humanitarian aid workers be targeted", Commissioner Carla del Ponte said.

“A deliberate attack against them such as the one that took place in Orum al-Kubra amounts to war crimes and those responsible must be held accountable for their actions”.

The repeated bombardments - which also destroyed schools, orphanages, markets, and residential homes - effectively made civilian life impossible and precipitated surrender.

The report further stresses that Syrian aircraft used chlorine  - a chemical agent prohibited under international law - against the civilian population of eastern Aleppo, causing “significant physical and psychological harm” to hundreds of civilians.

The report says as it became clear that eastern Aleppo would be taken by pro-government forces, all parties continued to commit “brutal and widespread violations”.

In some districts, armed groups shot at civilians to prevent them from leaving “effectively using them as human shields”.

Pro-government forces on the ground, mostly made up of Syrian and foreign militias, executed perceived opposition supporters - including family members of fighters.

Others were arrested and their whereabouts remain unknown.

The report is set to be presented on March 14th during the 34th session of the Human Rights Council.