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UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: No end in sight for Syrian civilians

Independent International Commission of Inquiry
on the Syrian Arab Republic

GENEVA/NEW YORK, 3 September 2015 -- With no end in sight, the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic continues to intensify, subjecting civilians of all backgrounds to crimes against humanity and war crimes, a group of UN experts warned today. These transgressions, which include gross human rights violations, are massive in extent and scope.

In its latest report, the UN commission of inquiry on Syria calls for urgent action to be taken to ensure effective protection of the Syrian people. This report, the Commission’s tenth to the Human Rights Council, charts the major trends and patterns in which combatants have targeted civilian communities, groups and individuals and subjected them to international human rights and humanitarian law violations. It draws on more than 335 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses in and outside the country, collected from January to July 2015. 

The report emphasises the need for concerted and sustained international action to find a political solution to end the violence and to stop the rampancy of war crimes and grave violations of human rights. Such action would necessarily include measures to break the seemingly intractable cycle of impunity.

“As the world stands witness, the Syrian people are suffering to an unimaginable extent,” said Commission Chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. “It is the responsibility of the warring parties in the Syrian conflict and influential states to seek peace, and the particular responsibility of the international community to open a path to justice for Syrian victims.”

Now in its fifth year, the armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has become a protracted and chaotic non-international armed conflict. A proliferating number of warring parties continues to display a complete disregard for their international legal obligations by targeting civilians, residential areas, and locations protected under international law. Combat tactics employed by all sides to the armed conflict, such as the use of siege warfare, indiscriminate shelling and use of air power have resulted in mass civilian casualties, destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage and displacement of Syrian civilians on a massive scale.

The Commission’s latest report documents the manner in which fighting-age men, women, children, detainees, the sick and wounded, medical and humanitarian workers, journalists, human rights defenders, and internally displaced persons are singled out and abused.

Government authorities continued to conduct wide-ranging attacks, including the use of intensive, indiscriminate aerial bombardment and barrel-bombs, in several parts of the country. Such assaults have frequently been directed at civilian gathering places, market places, public transportation sites, and locations with no military significance. Civilians, particularly fighting-age men, continue to be arrested, detained and, in some cases, disappeared based on their association, activism or perceived opposition to the Government.   

Anti-Government armed groups have attacked areas of Aleppo, Damascus, Idlib and Latakia, in some cases bombarding residential neighbourhoods and targeting civilians believed to be supporting the Government. Some armed groups have detained or taken hostage men and women in order to effectuate prisoner exchanges or to collect ransom.

Two terrorists groups, Jabhat Al-Nusra and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, continues to inflict brutal methods on civilians, particularly on religious and ethnic minorities. ISIS has consistently used of tactics to instil terror among the civilian population within its territory, especially areas in which it has recently gained control. Public executions and mutilation of men, women and children have been documented as well as the destruction of cultural heritage sites. ISIS has continued its widespread use of rape, forced marriage, sexual violence and enslavement of women. Yazidi women and children have been specifically subjected to dreadful abuses, on the basis of their community’s religious identity which ISIS labels as pagan.

Based on the acts of violence documented, the Commission’s report stresses that the extreme hardship endured by millions of ordinary Syrians will only grow more acute unless immediate action is taken to stop the violence. Already the consequences of years of mass displacement, humanitarian emergency and armed conflict have spilled far beyond the country’s borders. 

“We must do more for the victims of this conflict who have been forced to flee their homes and to seek protection and refuge under the direst of circumstances,” Pinheiro said. “It is imperative for the world community to act with humanity and compassion by developing legal channels of migration that increases the protection space for asylum seekers and refugees.”


The Commission, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, Ms. Carla del Ponte and Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law.

The Commission has also been tasked with investigating allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and its mandate was expanded to include “investigations of all massacres.”

The full report can be found on the Human Rights Council web page dedicated to the commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic:

The report is scheduled to be presented on 21 September during an interactive dialogue at the 30th session of the Human Rights Council.


For further media information:
(Geneva) Rolando Gómez, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Tel: +41-22-917.9711, email: rgomez@ohchr.org, or Cédric Sapey, OHCHR, Tel: +41-22-917.9695, email: csapey@ohchr.org
(New York) Nenad Vasić, OHCHR New York Office, Tel: +1-212-963-5998, email: vasic@un.org