The Syrian military and armed militias loyal to President Bashar Assad have used children as young as 8 years old as human shields, a new United Nations report has found.
Children have also been tortured and killed by the Syrian army and its allies; whipped, beaten, subjected to sexual violence, burned with cigarettes and even given electrical shock. One former soldier told the U.N. he had been ordered to shoot “without distinction” during protests in the city of Tall Kalakh, even though children were there. Three girls roughly between the ages of 10 and 13 were killed, he said.
Though most of the reported abuses were carried out by the Syrian army and its allies, there are also credible allegations that the armed rebels fighting Bashar's forces have recruited children to fight, the U.N. report said.
The abuses were laid out as part of an annual U.N. report on children and armed conflict worldwide last year. However, the violations in Syria were so grave that the U.N. decided to include a string of more recent incidents in its report, including a March attack by government forces in which three teens were killed and three other youths were arrested for interrogation, one of them a 9-year-old girl.
Syria was added to the U.N. "list of shame" this year. “The world is keeping a detailed account of the violence committed against civilians in Syria and I am confident that these crimes will not go unpunished,” U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said.
The fighting in Syria has resulted in more than 10,000 deaths, with those killed including rebels, civilians and government forces. The slaying of children, including a recent massacre that included at least 32 children in the township of Houla, has stepped up continued calls to stop the violence.
U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan lamented last week that a peace plan he brokered had not halted the violence, with both sides violating the truce. Heavy bombardment of the Syrian city of Homs and other towns occupied by rebels has alarmed the international body, whose secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called the recent shelling a "dangerous intensification of armed violence."
The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activist network, said that at least 40 people were killed Tuesday, including a baby less than 2 months old. Meanwhile, Syrian state media reported that armed terrorists -- the usual government term for the rebels -- kidnapped passengers on two buses Tuesday.
Outside a Homs building battered by shelling, a man asked angrily, "What is this? Nobody help us? Why?" The unnamed man was recorded in a video shared by the U.N. Tuesday. "We are people. Not animals."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A Syrian boy stands Sunday next to the coffin of a man said to have been killed during clashes with government troops in Daraa in an image released by the Syrian opposition's media outlet. Credit: Shaam News Network / AFP/Getty Images