UN investigators left out pages of disturbing details about Syrian chemical attacks originally included in the first draft of a war crimes report released on Wednesday, The New York Times reported Thursday.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria published a 23-page report yesterday about the siege of eastern Ghouta, which it characterized as the longest running siege in modern history and described as “barbaric and medieval.” But the report summarized seven pages of “horrific” details about chemical attacks carried out by the Syrian military included in an earlier draft in just two paragraphs, according to The New York Times.
The version of the report published on June 20 said that both sides of the conflict -- Syrian government forces and their affiliated groups and rebel fighters opposing President Bashar al Assad’s regime -- committed war crimes during the siege. That prompted the Times to reveal that it had received an earlier draft of the report from an anonymous source who the publication described as close to the commission.
The draft report included far greater detail about chemical attacks carried out against civilians by Syrian government forces, including what appeared to be the first documentation of the use of Iranian-supplied weaponry in the attacks.
For example, the draft meticulously described evidence the commission said it had obtained from chemical attacks on Jan. 22 and Feb. 1, 2018. It identified the bomb delivery devices used in the attacks as Iranian artillery rockets that were known to have been supplied to Syrian government forces. The final report didn’t disclose that information. When describing two of the chemical attacks, it said instead that the commission was “unable to obtain sufficient material evidence to conclusively identify the weapons delivery systems.”
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Hanny Megally, an Egyptian human rights lawyer and one of the three members of the commission, explained the significant omissions from the final report to the Times by saying that many of the details in the earlier version required additional verification.
“We thought we need to do some more work on this, it’s an ongoing investigation,” Megally said. “So we thought, let’s keep it short.”
He also said there was no outside pressure to withhold any of the information included in the draft.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council and is responsible for investigating and recording all violations of international law in Syria since the beginning of its bloody civil war in March 2011.
Wednesday’s report found that Syrian government troops and affiliated forces committed war crimes and a crime against humanity with heavy bombardment, including deliberate targeting of medical facilities, and “deliberately starving” 265,000 people in eastern Ghouta.
The report also condemned 20,000 rebel fighters based in eastern Ghouta during the siege for shelling the Syrian capital of Damascus, which the commission concluded also amounted to war crimes.
Reuters contributed to this report