The Houla massacre of 108 civilians, nearly half children under the age of 10, has catapulted the Syrian conflict to the forefront of the United Nations Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) agenda. Following confirmation of the number of children killed in Houla by Observers from the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG), Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, released a statement condemning in the harshest terms the Houla killings and called for investigations into the circumstances behind the deadly attacks. Ms. Coomaraswamy’s statement that “the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes in El-Houle must be held accountable” echoed an earlier statement from the UN Security Council which reiterated that the use of force against a civilian population is a violation of international law and that those responsible must be held accountable.
The crisis in Syria, sparked by a tough government crackdown launched against protesters last year, has resulted in unabated violence and the displacement and killing of hundreds of Syrian children for 15 months. According to UNICEF’s Deputy Director of Emergency Programmes Dermot Carty, children and young people account for 50% of all refugees crossing into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Prior to the Houla massacre, the Office of the SRSG had repeatedly commented on the escalation of violence in Syria and its toll on children. In addition, the office sent a technical team to refugee camps in Turkey to investigate allegations of grave violations against children earlier this year. Based on the information collected from the Syrian refugees, as well as the horrendous evidence coming out of Houla and other areas, Syria will likely be listed in the Secretary-General’s 11th Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict for killing and maiming, and attacks on schools and hospitals.