UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF called on Syria on Tuesday to investigate reports of “horrific acts” of violence against children detained during the current wave of unrest in the Arab country.
The call came after The New York Times reported on Monday that an online video showed a 13-year-old boy, arrested at a protest on April 29, who it said had been tortured, mutilated and killed before his body was returned to his family.
Protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad broke out in southern Syria in March and have spread across the country. Human rights groups say 1,000 civilians have been killed and 10,000 arrested in a government crackdown.
In a statement, UNICEF said use of live ammunition against demonstrators had reportedly killed at least 30 children, although it said it could not independently confirm that figure or the circumstances of their death.
The agency said it was “particularly disturbed by the recent video images of children who were arbitrarily detained and suffered torture or ill-treatment during their detention leading in some cases to their death.”
“We call on the government to thoroughly investigate these reports and ensure that perpetrators of such horrific acts are identified and brought to justice,” it added.
UNICEF did not specifically cite the case reported by The New York Times, involving Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, arrested in Jiza, a village near the southern city of Deraa, where the protests first erupted.
The agency reminded Syria that as a party to the 1990 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, it was bound to ensure children’s right to life, to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and protection from violence, exploitation and abuse.
It said the government had a primary responsibility for the well-being of those affected by the unrest and a duty to ensure continuation of basic social services.
The UNICEF statement was one of the strongest issued by any U.N. body on the situation in Syria. The U.N. humanitarian division OCHA has failed to win permission from Damascus to send teams to cities attacked by government forces.
Western countries are trying to get the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning the Syrian government but have met objections from Russia and China, which both hold vetoes in the 15-nation council.
Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Eric Beech