The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was established on 22 August 2011 by the Human Rights Council through resolution
S-17/1 adopted at its 17th special session with a mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Commission was also tasked to establish the facts and circumstances that may amount to such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and, where possible, to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable. The Human Rights Council has repeatedly extended the Commission's mandate since then, most recently until 31 March 2020.
Since beginning its work, the Commission has produced over 20 reports, in addition to numerous periodic updates, exposing human rights violations committed throughout the country based on interviews with over 6,000 witnesses and victims. The Commission’s investigations relied primarily on first-hand accounts to corroborate incidents. Thousands of interviews have been conducted thus far with people in camps and hospitals in countries neighbouring Syria as well as by telephone and Skype with victims and witnesses inside the country. The commission also reviews photographs, video recordings, satellite imagery, forensic and medical, reports from Governments and non-Governmental sources, academic analyses and United Nations reports. To make a finding, the commission requires that incidents be corroborated to a level where the commission had ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ that the incidents occurred as described.
Since the unrest began in March 2011, millions of persons have been displaced from their homes with 13,5 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country.
Shortly after its establishment, the President of the Human Rights Council appointed Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Brazil), Karen Koning AbuZayd (United States) and Yakin Erturk (Turkey) to serve as the Commissioners. (Yakin Erturk stepped down from the position in March 2012). Following the extension of the Commission’s mandate in September 2012, two new Commissioners were appointed - Carla del Ponte (Switzerland) and Vitit Muntarbhorn (Thailand). Vitit Muntarbhorn (Thailand) stepped down in 2016 when he was designated as the first UN Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by the Human Rights Council. Carla del Ponte (Switzerland) resigned in August 2017. In October 2017, the President of the Human Rights Council appointed Hanny Megally (Egypt) to serve as the third Commissioner.
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