GENEVA, 6 September 2016 –Following an all-too-brief respite in fighting resulting from February’s cessation of hostilities agreement, there has been a tragic increase in violence targeting Syrian civilians crushing hopes of peace in the war-torn country, a group of UN experts reported today.
In its latest report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria notes how recent indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including on medical workers and facilities, blocked humanitarian convoys, enforced disappearances, summary executions, and other crimes committed by all parties to the conflict, have left Syrians in a state of despair.
"The relentless attacks and sieges against civilians shows no signs of abating giving people little, if any, hope, of a lasting peace in the country", said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro.
Violence has reached unprecedented levels in Aleppo as parties wrestle for control over the eastern part of the city. Casualties have rapidly mounted at an alarming rate as civilians have been unable to flee from daily airstrikes. While some perish in the attacks, others later die from lack of life-saving medical services, a consequence of the pro-Government forces’ bombardments that have destroyed over twenty hospitals and clinics in Aleppo governorate alone since the beginning of the year.
Countless medical staff and first responders who provide vital services lost their lives in such attacks, further worsening a situation already desperately precarious before the current offensive. “The intensifying attacks on medical care – including maternity hospitals, paediatric units and emergency wards – are in flagrant disregard of the letter and the spirit of international humanitarian law. Such attacks seek to levy the suffering of civilians by belligerents in order to gain military advantage”, said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro.
As hostilities resumed in areas that had enjoyed relative peace for the first time in five years, so did aerial and shelling bombardments, primarily by pro-Government forces. Anti-government armed groups continued to indiscriminately shell civilian inhabited neighbourhoods, and engage in hostage-taking for ransom. Attacks by both sides have killed and maimed scores of civilians, many of them children. In Government-held areas, the designated terrorist group ISIL, also known as Daesh, continues to carry out suicide attacks, in cities such as Jableh and Tartous, deliberately killing hundreds of civilians.
In Government-controlled areas of Aleppo city as well as the YPG-held Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood, ground shelling attacks by armed group coalitions, including Ahrar al-Sham and the terrorist group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, now renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham have killed scores of men, women and children.
“Nearly 600,000 civilians in Damascus, Rif Damascus, Dayr Az-Zawr, Homs and Idlib governorates continue to suffer brutal conditions created by protracted sieges”, the report states. Across the country, starvation through besiegement continues to be used as a tactic of war with devastating consequences. Darayya, besieged by Government security forces for almost four years, saw young children and elderly people dying of starvation. Survivors described subsisting on grass and unsafe drinking-water, a phenomenon also reported throughout other besieged areas.
“Recent developments in Darayya, including the forcible displacement of the civilian population as part of political negotiations, contravene well-established principles of international law” said Commissioner Vitit Muntarbhorn. “Efforts being undertaken by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien and his Office to address the needs of all those affected by the evacuation must be fully supported.”
The report further stresses that, parallel to the immense suffering that the intensification of hostilities has brought upon the Syrian population, other less visible human rights violations committed by warring parties have not waned. Out of the public eye, thousands of civilians and fighters rendered hors de combat continued to be arrested or abducted in the streets and subsequently disappeared in detention. Survivors of detention describe horrifying methods of torture, including sexual violence, and the death of inmates as a result of torture, inhuman prison conditions and lack of access to adequate medical care.
The Syrian conflict and the on-going violations it sustains will only come to an end with a return of the parties to the negotiation table. The relief brought by the cessation of hostilities agreement is ample evidence that only the exercise of political will by relevant stakeholders, including in the international community, can reduce the suffering of the Syrian people.
“It is imperative that the key parties negotiate an end to this conflict, while bearing in mind that any peace agreement must necessarily provide justice for the victims”, said Commissioner Carla Del Ponte.
The Commission, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Carla Del Ponte, Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, and Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic.
The full report can be found on the Human Rights Council web page dedicated to the commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/Pages/IndependentInternationalCommission.aspx
The report is scheduled to be presented on 19 September during an interactive dialogue at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council.