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Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic


Since the unrest began in March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic, millions of women, men, girls and boys have been affected and suffered violations at the hands of warring parties. More than half the pre-war population has since fled, many multiple times, and more than 13 million Syrians are either displaced or living as refugees in one of the world’s largest displacement crises.  Already in 2016, the United Nations estimated that 400,000 people had died as a result of the conflict, and OHCHR estimates that more than 300,000 civilians were killed during the conflict’s first ten years. Thousands of civilians have suffered at the hands of brutal non-State armed groups, including ISIL. Government forces and affiliated militias have arbitrarily or unlawfully detaining tens of thousands of individuals in official and makeshift detention centres throughout the country.

Since beginning of its work in 2011, the Commission has produced at least two mandated reports every year. In addition, the Commission has produced many conference room papers, policy papers and thematic papers on issues including sexual and gender based violence, detention and child rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. All these reports and papers are available here. The Commission has also orally briefed the Human Rights Council some three times per year on the conflict in Syria, in addition to briefing the Security Council during Arria Formula sessions. The content of these reports and briefings has outlined human rights violations committed throughout the country by numerous parties and were based on interviews with over 10,000 witnesses and victims.

While the Commission’s investigations relied primarily on first-hand accounts to corroborate incidents, the Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country.

Interviews have been conducted thus far with people in displacement camps and hospitals in countries neighbouring Syria, in other countries with Syrian refugees as well as by telephone 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 factual or legal finding, the Commission requires that incidents are corroborated to a level where there are ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ that the incidents occurred as described.

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.  Karen AbuZayd stepped down in September 2021. In December 2022, Lynn Welchman (United Kingdom) was appointed as Commissioner.