Header image for news printout

Press conference opening remarks by Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro

Independent International Commission of Inquiry
on the Syrian Arab Republic

Press Conference - Opening remarks
(Near Verbatim)

GENEVA, 3 September 2015 - With no end in sight, the Syrian conflict continues to intensify. Civilians, Syrians of all backgrounds, have been the subject of crimes against humanity, war crimes as well as other serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of their human rights.

Our tenth report, released today, examines the impact of the Syrian conflict on some of the most affected groups and communities. This report documents the manner in which fighting-age men, women, children, detainees, the sick and wounded, the besieged, medical and humanitarian workers, lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists and the displaced have been specifically targeted by one or more of the warring parties.

Civilians are suffering the unimaginable, as the world stands witness. Without stronger efforts to bring parties to the peace table, ready to compromise, current trends suggest that the Syrian conflict – and the killing and destruction it wreaks – will carry on for the foreseeable future.

From the interviews gathered by the Commission, a resonant cry for peace and accountability rings out. It is the responsibility of the warring parties and influential states to seek peace, and the particular obligation of the Security Council, in the context of the war in the Syrian Arab Republic, to open a path to justice.

We returned from the region yesterday and we are shocked by the magnitude of this tragedy, by the indescribable suffering expressed by the victims who entrusted us with their testimonies. We were deeply moved by accounts received from injured children who have been caught in the midst of this battle and who are tragically recruited into active combat by all parties. One of the children we met lost his arm as he fled the shelling around his house in the Aleppo countryside. Another received shrapnel from a nearby explosion as he was walking to school.

We regret not to have been able to meet with the victims who stay inside Syria.

As this tragedy continues, we are persistently asked about the inaction of the international community as almost half the Syrian population is now displaced or made refugees.

What answers can we give these people now after four and a half years of conflict where civilians paid the heaviest price?

The recent incidents in Douma, Reef Damascus, have reinforced our earlier findings that the main cause of civilian casualties, arbitrary displacement, and destruction are indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. The latest aerial bombardment by government forces on 16 August has reportedly killed more than 100 civilians in a market. The town is already besieged and shelled regularly, which makes the situation even harsher for those civilians caught in the crossfire between the armed groups in the area and government forces. We have received a number of troubling accounts in that regard and will shortly present our findings.

Anti-Government armed groups continue to besiege other areas including Foua and Kafra’ia in the Idlib governorate and have reportedly shelled these two towns extensively in the last two weeks causing civilian casualties. Parts of the capital Damascus have also allegedly been shelled by armed groups causing a number of civilian casualties. Parties to the conflict have again miserably failed to ensure the protection of civilians who have no place to go.

On the other hand, ISIS’s impact on the communities it controls continues unabated. Its most devastating impact, however, is on those children it continues to indoctrinate as part of the brutal system it applies. The group has committed grave violations against ethnic and religious communities, particularly Yazidis, which the Commission documented comprehensively. Thousands of Yazidi women continue to be held in sexual slavery and many of them are married off to ISIS fighters. Many of the Yazidi children have also been indoctrinated.

Is it acceptable that such a situation persists in the 21st century?

In conjunction with these developments, an unparalleled crisis, replete with multiple threats and displacements, is unfolding before our eyes.  An estimated 7.6 million persons are internally displaced in Syria, while there has been an outflow of over four million into neighboring countries.  These massive movements of people are narrowing the protection space and stretching the generosity of host communities to the limit.

The predicament of the Syrian people is exacerbated by inadequate response from the international community, at a time when timely and decisive action is most needed.  As the situation inside Syria disintegrates further, the hope of return of those who have left the country diminishes daily.  Is it any wonder, therefore, that many Syrians are now fleeing chaos in search of protection, especially across the Mediterranean and into Europe?   Their misery is aggravated by despicable crimes committed against them “en route”, especially human trafficking and smuggling. The decomposing bodies of 71 people in a truck abandoned on a highway in Austria this past month is a testament to this trans-frontier disaster.

The tenth report of the Commission advocates effective protection of the human rights of all persons, including migrants, internally displaced persons, asylum-seekers and refugees, with improved protection space and compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. As the Secretary General underlined recently, the world community must do more. It is imperative to develop legal channels of migration, as well as to act with humanity and compassion, respectful of international obligations.  The legal avenues to be explored further include expanded resettlement, humanitarian admission, flexible visa policies, family reunification, and sponsorship schemes.

The Commission has stressed since its inception, and constantly affirmed through its reports that the scope of insecurity, violence and humanitarian crisis could spill well beyond the Syrian borders with tragic consequences. It is high time the international community engages collectively to find a political solution to this tragedy which has taken, and continues to take a decisive toll on Syrians on a daily basis.