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UN Commission of Inquiry: Syrian victims reveal ISIS’s calculated use of brutality and indoctrination

GENEVA (14 November 2014) – The UN commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has documented shocking accounts of the armed group’s use of terror to subjugate Syrians living in its areas of control, as well as the use of extreme violence against both civilians and captured fighters, in its latest report, “Rule of Terror: Living under ISIS in Syria”.

“Those that fled consistently described being subjected to acts that terrorise and aim to silence the population,” said Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the commission.

Based on over 300 first-hand victim and witness accounts, the report provides a unique insight from Syrian men, women and children who fled or who are living in ISIS-controlled areas. The paper was also informed by the publications, photographs and video footage distributed by the armed group.

The commission paints a devastating picture of civilian life inside ISIS-controlled areas in northeastern Syria. Executions, amputations and lashings in public spaces have become a regular occurrence. The display of mutilated bodies has only further terrorised and traumatised Syrians, in particular children.

ISIS has sought to exclude Syrian women and girls from public life. Women have been killed, often by stoning, for unapproved contact with the opposite sex. ISIS regulations dictate what women must wear, with whom they may socialise, and where they may work. Distressing accounts were collected of forced marriages of girls as young as 13 to ISIS fighters. The paper details ISIS’s horrific abuse of Yazidi women and girls, some of whom, after being abducted in Iraq in September 2014, were taken into Syria and sold into sexual slavery in markets in locations across Ar-Raqqah governorate.

Children have also been the victims, perpetrators and witnesses of ISIS executions. The armed group employs education as a tool of indoctrination, aiming propaganda at children to foster a new generation of recruits. In Raqqah city, children are gathered for screenings of videos depicting mass executions of Government soldiers, desensitising them to extreme violence.

Where ISIS has occupied areas with diverse ethnic and religious communities, minorities have been forced either to assimilate or flee. “There is a manifest pattern of violent acts directed against certain groups – notably Christians, Shias and Kurds - with the intent to curtail and control their presence within ISIS areas,” said Commissioner Vitit Muntarbhorn.

The group has attacked journalists and activists trying to communicate the daily suffering of those living under its yoke. Scores have been abducted, disappeared, tortured and executed.

The paper also details ISIS’s killing of captured belligerents during its recent military assaults, including the killings of over 200 captured soldiers from Tabqa airbase in Ar-Raqqah and the killing of hundreds of members of the Al-Sheitat tribe in Dayr Az-Zawr, both in August 2014.

As an armed group bound by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and customary international law, ISIS has violated its obligations toward civilians and persons hors de combat, amounting to war crimes. In areas where ISIS has established effective control, ISIS has systematically denied basic human rights and freedoms and in the context of its attack against the civilian population, has perpetrated crimes against humanity.

The abuses, violations and crimes committed by ISIS against Syrians have been deliberate and calculated. “The commanders of ISIS have acted wilfully, perpetrating these war crimes and crimes against humanity with clear intent of attacking persons with awareness of their civilian or hors de combat status,” said Commissioner Carla del Ponte, “They are individually criminally responsible for these crimes.”

Among the paper’s recommendations was a call to engage international accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, to hold individuals, including ISIS commanders, responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Commission emphasised that the lack of a political process had allowed extremism to fester and it was urgent to reach a sustainable solution to the on-going armed conflict in Syria through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process. “'The international community and the Syrian Government must engage in this process without further delay,” stated Commissioner Karen AbuZayd.



The commission, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, Ms. Carla del Ponte and Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law. The Commission has also been tasked with investigating allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and its mandate was recently expanded to include “investigations of all massacres.”

The paper can be found on the Human Rights Council web page dedicated to the commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic:

For further information and media requests, please contact Rolando Gomez, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tel: +41-22-917.9711, email: rgomez@ohchr.org or Liz Throssell Tel: 41 22 917 9466, email: ethrossell@ohchr.og

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