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Syria: Fears for displaced and encircled civilians as ISIL offensives escalate in north – UN experts

GENEVA (1 June 2016) – Two United Nations experts on internally displaced persons (IDPs) and summary executions today urged immediate protection for thousands of civilians caught up in ISIL offensives in the Aleppo region of northern Syria. The experts voiced their concern at the prospect of massive new displacement of populations in the region and the targeting of trapped and vulnerable civilians including those already internally displaced and highly vulnerable due to the conflict. 

In recent days, according to the UN in Syria, ISIL has rapidly seized a number of villages and advanced to within two kilometres of Azaz town, putting at risk those internally displaced living in camps near the Turkish border and other vulnerable communities.

An estimated 9,500 people were also encircled by fighting around Mare’a city as ISIL advanced into areas held by other Non-State armed groups on 27 May. ISIL’s swift takeover of Kiljibrin and Kafr Kalbein left some 6,000 civilians stranded in the two towns and unable to access safety.

“Despite some reported action to clear routes and allow blockaded civilians safe passage, this situation is deteriorating and urgent responses are needed to save lives,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani.

“That means ensuring immediate and unhindered passage of all civilians out of the conflict areas and their protection until they are able to return as well as rapid, safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to all those in need,” he stressed.

Mr Beyani noted that some 165,000 IDPs remain stranded at the Turkish border in settlements hit by shelling and airstrikes which have killed and injured dozens of civilians since the beginning of the year. “If safety cannot be secured for IDPs inside Syria it is incumbent on neighbouring countries to open their borders and offer safe passage as well as the right to seek asylum,” the expert urged.

Humanitarian agencies and NGOs have evacuated some staff, restricting essential assistance and humanitarian programmes for IDPs and other civilians, including medical care. Hospital staff have been evacuated and at least three humanitarian workers were reportedly critically wounded in areas close to the conflict.

“Unconfirmed yet disturbing reports indicate that ISIL militants have executed families, including women and children, with alleged links to Free Syrian Army affiliated groups in the town of Kiljibrin,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns. “If verified any such actions would constitute arbitrary executions and could amount to war crimes.”

The experts noted that IDPs and others in the conflict area are also allegedly being arrested and they face an uncertain fate, suspected of belonging to opposition groups.

“Disregard for the rights and the lives of civilians has regrettably become the norm in this conflict,” they said. “It is imperative for all parties to return to the rule of law and protect civilians as they are required to do under international humanitarian and human rights law and standards.”

“We call for the cessation of violence to allow trapped civilians to leave conflict areas as quickly and safely as possible,” the UN Special Rapporteurs concluded.

UN Special Rapporteurs Chaloka Beyani (Zambia) and Christof Heyns (South Africa) are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:

Internally displaced persons: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/IDPersonsIndex.aspx
Summary execution: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/SRExecutionsIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Syria: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/SYIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / gfox@ohchr.org) or write to  idps@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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