BEIRUT -- Children in Syria have been tortured, maimed and sexually abused by President Bashar Assad's forces and recruited for combat by the rebels fighting to topple him during the country's nearly 3-year-old conflict, a new United Nations report said.
The report, which highlights the treatment of children in the conflict from the beginning of the uprising against Assad in March 2011 until Nov. 15, 2013, was released this week to the Security Council and was posted on the U.N. website Tuesday.
It cites U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as saying that Syrian children have been subjected to "unspeakable suffering" during that time. Ban urged Syria's warring sides to "take, without delay, all measures to protect and uphold the rights of all children in Syria."
The uprising against Assad's rule began with largely peaceful protests in 2011 but evolved in time into a bloody civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people, according to activists. Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries or in safer parts of their homeland.
The conflict has hit the country's children hard.
The U.N. said government forces have been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children. Children as young as 11 have been detained by the authorities on suspicion of having links with armed groups.
Children in government custody have reportedly suffered beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons, electric shock and sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, the report said.
It was not clear what methodology was used and the summary of the report posted on the U.N. website did not say how investigators obtained their information.
Allegations of sexual violence by opposition groups were also received, but the UN was unable to further investigate them due to lack of access to areas in under rebel control, the report says.
While Assad's forces have used children as human shields in the fighting, the report also blasted rebels for "recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations."
During the first two years of the conflict, most killings and maiming of children were attributed to government forces, the U.N. report said. During 2013, the opposition forces have increasingly "engaged in such acts," the report said.
"Armed opposition groups also engaged in the summary execution of children," the report said. It said U.N. investigators have not been able to reach many of the rebel-held areas for lack of security there, and consequently have been unable to further investigate and document those violations.