MOSCOW, June 4 (RIA Novosti) – A new UN report into human rights violations in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons, on Tuesday drew criticism from Russia.
In a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website, permanent representative to the UN in Geneva Alexei Borodavkin urged the UN commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Syria to be more objective.
He said that, although the report rightly details war crimes committed by anti-government armed groups, it places an undue burden of guilt on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for the continuation of the conflict.
He also questioned the extent to which the UN commission made equal efforts to contact witnesses to alleged atrocities on each side.
The advance unedited version of the report by the UN commission was published on Tuesday. It covers the period January 15 to May 15, and says it bases its findings on witness testimony from people in Syria and the region.
It says that “war crimes and crimes against humanity have become a daily reality in Syria, where the harrowing accounts of victims have seared themselves on our conscience.”
One of the report’s key findings is that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict.
“Allegations have been received concerning the use of chemical weapons by both parties. The majority concern their use by government forces,” the report says.
In four incidents reported to have taken place between March 19 and April 29 in Aleppo, Damascus and Idlib, the report concludes that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used.”
However, it continues: “It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator.”
Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and has not ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. It is believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, an extremely toxic nerve agent.
The UN report covers a wide range of reported rights abuses, ranging from the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, extra-judicial killing, collective punishment, torture, sexual violence against men and women, and the use of child soldiers.
Both government forces and affiliated militia, as well as anti-government armed groups, are accused of most kinds of abuse listed in the report, but only anti-government armed forces are accused of using “children for active participation in hostilities.”
The UN report stresses that the levels of brutality are increasing, on all sides, and highlights that there is a “human cost to the political impasse that has come to characterize the response of the international community to the war in Syria.”
It also expresses concern over the threat of regional destabilization and the involvement of external actors in the conflict – on both government and anti-government sides – with Hezbollah fighting alongside Syrian government forces, and rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra vowing allegiance to al-Qaida.
Also on Tuesday, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement expressed similar concern over the threat to stability in the region from al-Nusra, particularly given its recent affiliation with al-Qaida in Iraq.
Syria has been locked in an increasingly bloody civil war since demonstrations broke out against the Assad regime in March 2011. According to UN estimates, about 80,000 people have been killed in the conflict. The UN puts the number of internally displaced people at 4.2 million, and estimates that 1.6 million Syrians have fled the country.