Critical Flaws in UN Report on Syria


Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria – TRANSCEND Media Service

Response to the Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic Dated 16 August 2013

Ref:  COI UN REPORT ON SYRIA, 16 August 2013, presented to the Human Rights Council, Twenty-fourth session, Agenda item 4: Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

To access this 16 August COI report, go to the link below, and click on 6th Report of Commission of Inquiry on Syria – A/HRC/24/4  11 September 2013



Our response to this Independent Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on Syria is a matter of urgency as the UN prepares to present a report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and as some member states support military action against the Syrian Arab Republic.

We hope our response encourages investigative journalists to begin this serious work of closely examining COI reports on Syria.

Much trust is placed in the veracity of COI reports simply because the UN, a highly regarded international body set up to prevent conflict, commissions and distributes them.  They are referenced by media outlets, thus having a significant influence on the views of millions of people about the Syrian crisis.

We present this report humbly, from the point of view of lay people who share a deep love for Syria, its history, archaeological sites, the courage of its people and the unity they strive for in exceedingly difficult circumstances.  We respect the three main faiths as they have been practised in Syria for many centuries.

16 September 2013


THE Summary OF THE COI REPORT (page 1)

The Syrian Arab Republic is a battlefield. Its cities and towns suffer relentless shelling and sieges. Massacres are perpetrated with impunity. An untold number of Syrians have disappeared. The present report covers investigations conducted from 15 May to 15 July 2013. Its findings are based on 258 interviews and other collected evidence.
Government and pro-government forces have continued to conduct widespread attacks on the civilian population, committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance as crimes against humanity. They have laid siege to neighbourhoods and subjected them to indiscriminate shelling. Government forces have committed gross violations of human rights and the war crimes of torture, hostage-taking, murder, execution without due process, rape, attacking protected objects and pillage.
 Anti-government armed groups have committed war crimes, including murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking and attacking protected objects. They have besieged and indiscriminately shelled civilian neighbourhoods.
Anti-government and Kurdish armed groups have recruited and used child soldiers in hostilities.The perpetrators of these violations and crimes, on all sides, act in defiance of international law. They do not fear accountability. Referral to justice is imperative.There is no military solution to this conflict. Those who supply arms create but an illusion of victory. A political solution founded upon tenets of the Geneva communiqué is the only path to peace.


Who were the Interviewees?

The findings of the COI report are “based on 258 interviews and other collected evidence”. However, nothing is known about the interviewees, yet what they report is presented as fact. We do not read, X alleged, or Y claimed, or According to …..

If they are asked to report on war crimes, there must be a distinction made between the hearsay of the interviewees and facts which are as yet impossible to establish.  (The difficulty of establishing the truth in a war situation must not lead to unprofessional short-cuts, particularly when millions of lives depend on the truth.  Even 8 years after Rafic Hariri’s assassination, it has not been established by an international tribunal who was responsible for his death.)

It is possible to find online an example of a good survey report commissioned by the UN.  Why isn’t the COI report on Syria as professional?  For example, why doesn’t it provide even basic information regarding the selection of the individuals questioned?

  • Were 258 individuals interviewed or were there 258 ‘interviews’?
  • Had the interviewees participated in previous surveys?
  • Who introduced the interviewees to the Commission?
  • Were interviewees only required to report about what they had witnessed?
  • Where were the interviews conducted?  How many were conducted face to face?  How many by Skype or telephone from Geneva?
  • How was it ensured that the interviewees represented people from different socio-economic, educational backgrounds etc.?
  • How many of those interviewed were refugees? Which refugee camps were they in?
  • How many represented Syrians who support the army
  • How many represented Syrians who support the armed opposition?
  • How were the interviews conducted to ensure discretion, so those surveyed had no reason to fear retribution?
  • What were the ages and gender of the interviewees?
  • How many of them had participated in the fighting? How many had relatives who had?
  • How many had been a victim of anti-government militias? (See interview of Christian refugee at the bottom of this web page on “Socrates and Syria”)
  • How many had been a victim of the Syrian army or the National Forces?
  • Were there any family or village links between participants?
  • Were members or supporters of the internal opposition interviewed? Although some of their leaders have been political prisoners in Syria, they generally distinguish themselves from the ‘militarized opposition’ .  (See interview of representatives of the “Third Current”, an opposition group, at the bottom of this web page on “Socrates and Syria”.)

Syria has a population of 22 – 23 million.  They range from members of the regular armed forces and the National Defence Forces to jihadists who fight for the establishment of a caliphate in Syria.  Today, strong opinions are held by Syrians and people will have experienced the crisis in many different tragic ways, and see it through very different lenses.  We must be better informed about the possible bias of the interviewees.  We need to be better able to consider the motivations of interviewees and their hopes and dreams for Syria.

How is the Guilt Spread?

A conclusion of most readers of the summary of the UN report would be that the ‘government and pro-government forces’ are more guilty of war crimes than the ‘anti-government forces’. (This is confirmed by newspaper reports of it.)

For example, there are about 60 words in the second paragraph, which presents a summary of the (alleged?) crimes of these forces. Repetition boosts the word number, so for example, ‘murder, ‘torture’, and ‘rape, are repeated.

On the other hand, the third paragraph which focuses on the crimes of ‘anti-government armed groups’ is much more succinct. It has fewer than 30 words, and there are no repetitions.

Interestingly, the next paragraph adds another war crime to the list committed by the ‘anti-government armed groups’, namely the recruiting and using of child soldiers in hostilities.  By referring to it in a separate paragraph along with the first mention of ‘Kurdish armed groups’, it may not receive the attention it deserves.

Not only is there added weight given to the crimes of the government and pro-government forces, they are accused of committing three crimes not listed as crimes committed by ant-government forces, namely enforced disappearance, rape and pillage.

On Rape:

There are no allegations of rape by ‘anti-government forces’, yet in April 2013, a period covered by the UN investigation, there were reports of fatwas by extremist clerics condoning the rape of women.  Also, the story of Mariam, a young Christian girl raped by at least 15 insurgents in Qusair was published in Agenzia Fides on 2/7/2013.  This should have raised eyebrows, surely, among the UN investigators.

Mariam was a 15-year-old Christian from Qusair, a city of the governorate in Homs… While her family was able to escape, Mariam was taken and forced into an Islamic marriage …..The commander of the battalion “Jabhat al-Nusra” in Qusair took Mariam, married and raped her. Then he repudiated her. The next day the young woman was forced to marry another Islamic militant. He also raped her and then repudiated her. The same trend was repeated for 15 days, and Mariam was raped by 15 different men. This psychologically destabilized her and made her insane. Mariam, became mentally unstable and was eventually killed.


Why now?

This UN Report on Syria was distributed on 16 August 2013.  Why has it received so much attention from the media  three weeks later?  Is it related to the long lead-up to the UN report into the chemical attack in Damascus?

Headlines and articles highlight claims about  pro-government forces committing massacres.

The Reuters headline, “Syrian forces responsible for Banias massacres: U.N. report” presents as fact something which is hearsay.

UN investigators did not visit Banias to conduct an investigation, as the headline might imply.  The people who presented those claims may have been in refugee camps in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Jordan.  We are not told.

Regarding a massacre in Banias on May 2 2013, this is a concluding sentence to a paragraph of the UN Report : “Testimonies were consistent that members of the National Defence Forces were actively involved in the raids and in many cases leading them.”

The report does not tell us if the people presenting these testimonies were innocent by-standers or people involved in armed conflict.   We do not know if members of one family provided the testimonies, or if members and relatives of an armed group provided them.  They may have been provided by relatives of victims.  We have no information about the people making these claims.  Furthermore, we do not know if the UN investigators made an any effort to hear counter claims.

In the Reuters article that references the UN report, Reuters reporter Stephanie Nebehay from Geneva writes: “..a Syrian intelligence officer, speaking to Reuters anonymously, acknowledged that the perpetrators were government loyalists, including some from the surrounding Alawite villages.”   Who introduced Stephanie to this officer?  How reliable is he?  What are his loyalties?  Again, the claims of an anonymous person are being presented to millions of people across the world, dependent on the media to tell them the story of Syria.  The case against the Syrian government and its army depends so much on hearsay.  Not only is this very concerning, but what is deeply disturbing, and even diabolical, is how this can lead in the media to a  creep into the language of sectarianism.  The Reuters reporter repeats an unsubstantiated claim of an ‘intelligence officer’ who implicates Alawite villages in the massacre in Banias.   This is fuel for an ongoing ugly sectarian conflict which the vast majority of Syrian people have worked hard to avoid.

One report in Reuters quoting one anonymous source and one UN report relying on the hearsay of 258 anonymous people make the work of Mussalaha (reconciliation) in Syria exceedingly difficult.   Such reports can be referenced by extremist clerics outside Syria who are calling for a jihad and those who look for any excuse to justify the killing of civilians who support the government and  ‘infidels’.  They do not provide a better understanding of the situation in Syria.  Instead, they provide references for those who actively support war and genocide.

Questions must be asked.

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