Detailing the horror of Syria’s tiniest victims

The newly released and first of its kind United Nations report assesses the toll of the Syrian conflict on children

Brooklyn Middleton

Published: Updated:

As with many official reports from Syria, the photographic and video evidence of such information is typically released by sources on social media before official reports are written. In one such video, uploaded by RMC media to YouTube, a toddler in Raqqa screams inconsolably while little gold earrings adorn her disfigured ears. Almost her entire face, back, and arms display horrendous scars that imply her body was once completely engulfed in flames. Perhaps the child was one of the thousands caught in the crosshairs of the raging civil war or maybe she was intentionally targeted by one of the many heinous actors in the Syrian conflict; the latter is now officially as plausible as the former.

The newly released and first of its kind United Nations report assessing the toll of the Syrian conflict on children details widespread horrors committed by Bashar al-Assad’s disgraced regime that targets Syria’s youngest. The damning assessment spans from March 1, 2011 –Nov. 15, 2013 and indicates that at least 10,000 children have been killed at the time of writing and countless others maimed. Particularly horrifying is the new evidence detailing Assad’s juvenile detention centers, which are truly tantamount to torture chambers. The report indicates children as young as eleven years old faced an “unspeakable” reality: some were tied down or suspended from walls by their limbs, their genitals shocked by electrical currents, their toenails and fingernails ripped from their little bodies. Other children were heinously forced to watch their own relatives be tortured while others still were raped and/or sexually assaulted. Further, the sexual violence against children by government forces is reportedly rampant and not limited to detention centers. In one such case discussed, a 14-year old girl from Homs was detained in July 2013 for half a year and repeatedly raped. In other cases, girls were reportedly gang raped – sometimes in front of their family members – at various government checkpoints or during a search of their private residences, which were allegedly occupied by anti-government forces.

Indiscriminate killing

The report also detailed indiscriminate killing by rebel fighters: at least 18 children were killed when opposition forces including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Jabhat al-Nusra, and Ahrar al-Sham launched a major offensive targeting Alawite villages in Latakia governorate on August 4, 2013; despite unconfirmed reports that rebel fighters attempted to evacuate civilians (but to where?) many children were shot to death inside their homes or while they attempted to flee. Further, the U.N. notes that, “armed opposition groups have been responsible for the recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations, including using terror tactics, in civilian-populated areas, leading to civilian casualties, including children.” One particularly noteworthy point of this aspect of the report is that it clearly indicated that the vast majority of children killed during 2011 and 2012 came at the hands of regime forces but that due to “increased access to heavy weapons and the use of terror tactics, armed opposition groups increasingly engaged in such acts during 2013.” This point underscores the increasing radicalization of the opposition that the international community’s inertia helped to foment.

The more dire the humanitarian situation becomes and as the most radical rebels continue to emerge with power, the more Assad is being handed an advantage

Brooklyn Middleton

The U.N. assessment comes amid renewed attention on the ongoing war crimes of the Assad regime; only weeks ago, a 31-page report showcasing extensive photographic documentation of systematic torture by Assad’s men surfaced – based on the testimony and meticulous evidence of a regime defector whose job was to photograph the bodies of the tortured. Chilling to think similar photographic evidence will be produced of Syria’s young victims.

Copious, reliable evidence

Copious and reliable evidence of war crimes was brought forth in the recent term including: the blocking of humanitarian aid and food to besieged areas, photographic documentation of systematic torture in Assad’s prisons and now this report detailing a wide-range of regime abuses against children. Meanwhile, the Assad regime remains virtually unchecked by the international community since the Russian backed chemical weapons deal was implemented, opposition groups continue to fragment and historically unprecedented numbers of foreign fighters continue to flock to Syria to wage jihad. But the focus of the West is almost entirely on convincing the Assad regime to adhere to absurdly basic demands, like utilizing the transfer of humanitarian aid to besieged areas including to the residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp-a topic that dominated Geneva II talks. While the facilitation of humanitarian aid to areas with a critical need for it must immediately be orchestrated by all parties involved, the West must not be duped into allowing the Assad regime to continuing using this as a bargaining chip. So long as this is the primary focus of talks, critical discussions on Syria’s future including a comprehensive transition of power remains completely out of the question. At the same time, the more dire the humanitarian situation becomes and as the most radical rebels continue to emerge with power, the more Assad is being handed an advantage and the more reports like this will continue to emerge.


Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

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