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Press briefing note on Syria

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville 
Location: Geneva 
Date: 18 February 2020
Subject: 1) Syria

1) Syria

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is today expressing her horror at the scale of the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria (see news release)

It is cruel beyond belief that civilians, mostly women and children, living under scraps of plastic sheeting in freezing conditions are being bombed. Entire families, some who have fled from one corner of Syria to the other over the course of the past decade, are tragically finding that bombs are part of their everyday life. We can see no possible justification for carrying out such indiscriminate and inhumane attacks on an already hugely traumatized population.

Civilians fleeing the fighting are being squeezed into areas without safe shelter that are shrinking in size by the hour. And still they are bombed. They simply no longer have anywhere to go.

The High Commissioner is therefore once again calling on all parties to the Syrian conflict, including all the involved States and non-state actors, to immediately cease hostilities, and ensure the protection of all civilians.

In all, since 1 January this year, during the Syrian Government’s latest major military offensive to retake key areas in Idlib and Aleppo, we have recorded the deaths of 299 civilians in this region of Syria. Around 93 percent of those deaths were caused by the Syrian Government and its allies. In addition, 10 medical facilities and 19 educational facilities have either been directly hit or affected by strikes close by.

We have also recorded several incidents in which displacement camps were either directly hit or affected by nearby strikes. As the High Commissioner puts it: “No shelter is now safe,” and as the Government offensive continues and people are forced into smaller and smaller pockets, she fears even more people will be killed.

The displacement camps themselves are overwhelmed by the sheer number of people seeking shelter, and there is limited access to food, clean water and medical care. Many fearing for their lives have fled the camps, braving harsh weather conditions and sub-zero temperatures, and taken their chances on the road.

Civilians, including the most vulnerable such as the elderly, sick people and children, are being displaced. They are now at a higher risk than ever, with little hope an no guarantees for a safe and voluntary return to their areas of origin, or areas of their choice.

The High Commissioner is calling on the Syrian Government and its allies to allow humanitarian corridors into conflict areas, and to allow for the safe passage of civilians. Protection and unimpeded access should be granted by all parties for humanitarian aid and assistance for civilians.

The protection of civilians is paramount, and the blatant disregard for the life and safety of civilians runs contrary to the obligations that all parties must uphold under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Despite repeated calls to protect civilians in the conduct of hostilities, we are alarmed by the failure of diplomacy, that should put protection of civilians ahead of any political or military victories. The High Commissioner condemns in the strongest terms the continued impunity for violations of international humanitarian law committed by various parties to the conflict.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Jeremy Laurence - + 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.orgor Liz Throssell- + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.org or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

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