UN human rights investigators have concluded that civilians fell victim to war crimes perpetrated by all sides during the battle of Aleppo last year.
According to the new report, hundreds of lives were claimed by air strikes by the government forces and its ally Russia. Chlorine bombs were also dropped by government forces resulting in civilian casualties.
The rebels are accused of using human shields and firing shells indiscriminately at government-held areas.
The UN Human Rights Council’s commission investigators interviewed hundreds of eyewitnesses, and examined satellite imagery and remains of explosive devices. They concluded that civilians caught in the fighting in the last six months of the battle were left vulnerable to repeated violations of international law.
Pro-government forces imposed a siege in July and stepped up an aerial campaign as part of the strategy to force those inside the city’s rebel-held east to surrender. The move trapped civilians with food shortages and lack of medical facilities.
Investigators highlighted air strikes that destroyed all the hospitals in eastern Aleppo by December, also noting that there were no military targets around the facilities, and no prior warnings were given for any of the attacks.
The report, however, didn’t explicitly state that Russia violated international law; both Syrian and Russian forces use the same war planes so the investigators couldn’t accuse Russia of a particular incident.
The Syrian and Russian forces had denied targeting any civilian at the time of the attacks and blamed rebels for targeting residential areas. The report also alleged Syrian forces for carrying out an attack on a humanitarian convoy in September in a town held by rebels west of Aleppo in which 15 aid workers were killed.
The Syrian government at the time had denied accusations that it conducted the convoy attack which the U.S. blamed were carried out by Russian warplanes. Russia, for their part, suggested that a U.S. drone was responsible for the attack.
The investigators noted that there were an “alarming number” of allegations of the use of chlorine in the siege of eastern Aleppo. They found at least two incidents in which chlorine bombs were dropped by government forces.
Usage of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under international law and Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria is a party.
What are rebels accused of?
The investigators found out that rebel groups continuously shelled western Aleppo throughout the siege. They used mostly unguided and imprecise weaponry, including so-called “hell cannons” that injured or killed dozens of civilians.
The report claims that the attacks were not directed towards a military target, and intentionally terrorized the civilian population, constituting in a war crime.
When the situation deteriorated in eastern Aleppo, rebels sought humanitarian aid from civilians and violently prevented them from fleeing by using them as human shields.
The report stated that:
“The fall of Aleppo was characterized by reprisals, the most serious of which were executions by members of pro-government forces of hors de combat armed groups fighters and the murder of their civilian family members.”