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Press briefing note on Dar’a

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado   
Location: Geneva 
Date: 21 May 2019
Subject: Dar’a

GENEVA (21 May 2019) Ten months after “reconciliation” agreements were implemented in Dar’a Governorate in the southwest of Syria, the UN Human Rights Office has received a number of worrying reports of human rights violations and abuses by State and non-State actors, including executions, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, looting and seizure of property. Access to adequate housing, water, education and other basic needs also remains difficult for many.

The reconciliation agreements emerged in July 2018, when Syrian Government Forces took control of Dar’a Governorate from armed non-State groups. As part of the reconciliation agreement between the Government and some armed non-State groups, the Government re-established its civilian authority across the whole province, but some of the armed groups continued to retain effective military control over parts of the Governorate. Following the reconciliation agreements, most people who had been displaced by the conflict returned to their places of origin in Dar’a Governorate.

We have raised our concerns that the deals may not have been in full conformity with international law and that civilians did not have access to information on the terms of the deal prior to decisions being taken about them.

We have received reports that between 26 July 2018 and 31 March 2019, a number of former members of the armed groups and civilians who took up positions in Government entities including in civilian local councils or military or security forces have been killed in what appears to have been targeted killings. We have been able to document 11 such incidents.

During the same period, we have received reports that at least 380 people were arrested or detained. In many cases, the reasons for such arrests remain unclear, and little or no information is given to the families of the detainees about their whereabouts and status. In some incidents, the arrests were reportedly on suspicion of “terrorism”. Out of the 380, some 150 were released after a few days in detention, but at least 230 have been subjected to enforced disappearances. Of those detained, 17 were arrested at checkpoints set up by the Government on the outskirts of areas under their control as they were on Government “wanted lists”. In one case, two detainees died in Government custody after a few days’ detention in March 2019 and their families were only officially notified of their deaths, with no information on why or how they died. Their families did not receive their corpses.  Many families in Dar’a continue to have limited or no information about their missing or detained relatives.

Explosive remnants of war have been left behind by various parties to the conflict. Civilians, particularly children, continue to be killed or seriously injured by such explosives, despite the demining activities. We have recorded at least 12 such incidents.

The UN Human Rights Office has also confirmed reports that some non-State actors have carried out the looting and seizure of houses belonging to Shi’ite Muslims after forcibly evicting them in Busra al-Sham.

Many civilians have also not been able to return to their homes due to the extent of destruction, damage or looting.

Little improvement has been achieved in rehabilitation of infrastructure in the Governorate. Electricity and water supplies remain unreliable and poorly distributed due to the Government’s lack of capacity and finance as a result of a severe and long armed conflict.

The Government should take all necessary steps to enhance and respect the protection of the human rights of all people in areas under its control and ensure and facilitate non-discriminatory access by civilians to essential life-sustaining services including adequate housing, clean water, medical and education services.

The authorities should ensure that arrests of individuals in connection with the ongoing armed conflict or criminal charges against them are carried out according to law and supported by credible and sufficient evidence. The Government needs to ensure full respect for due process and fair trial rights of all people detained, and that the identity, location, status and condition of all those held in its custody are disclosed.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Ravina Shamdasani - 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org
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