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Press briefing notes Multiple Mechanisms

”Military solutions” in Syria have led to a decade of death, denial, and destruction - UN Syria Commission of Inquiry report

18 February 2021


GENEVA, 18 February 2021 – On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Syrian conflict and crisis, the Commission criticises the warring parties' readiness to sacrifice fundamental rights for short-lived political gains or under the pretext of fighting terrorism, and the enabling selectivity shown by those supporting the Government of Syria or the different warring parties. It calls for a reinvigoration of international efforts to end the conflict and put the country on a path toward peace and justice.

In a 20-page (31 with annexed maps) report released today, the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic recalls the most heinous of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law perpetrated against the civilian population in Syria since March 2011. Such acts are likely to constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes, including genocide.

“Parties to this conflict, have benefitted from the selective intervention and woeful negligence of the international community, that has left no Syrian family unscathed,” said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro. “The children, women and men of Syria have paid the price as a brutal authoritarian Government unleashed overwhelming violence to quell dissent.  Opportunistic foreign funding, arms and other support to the warring parties poured fuel on this fire that the world has been content to watch burn”, he continued. “It is far past time to finally put Syrians first – and expend every effort to support a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict and to help place Syria on a path toward a stable, prosperous, and just future for all her people”, he concluded.

The Commission examines how warring parties - first Government forces and later all sides – conducted the conflict and used weaponry that minimized risks to their own fighters, rather than harm to civilians. They consistently sought territorial control, at the expense of the rights of the population (partially depicted in the annexed area of influence maps, tracing the conflict’s evolution since 2013).

After ten years, more than half of the pre-conflict population is internally or externally displaced, cities have been reduced to rubble, and a constellation of armed actors continue to prey on the population. Syrians in population centres have suffered vast aerial and artillery bombardments; they have endured chemical weapons attacks, modern day sieges leading to starvation and shameful restrictions on humanitarian aid – both cross-line and cross-border, the latter even with the approval of the Security Council.

“As a significant refugee hosting country in past, it is unconscionable  that for ten years, humanitarian aid has been consistently delayed, denied, and instrumentalised - despite the clear and consistent needs of so many Syrians, as well as Palestinian and other refugees,” observed Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “There are basic human rights and humanitarian needs – food, water, health care, and education – that must be met regardless of which group controls a given territory. With a medical sector vastly diminished by deliberate targeting, incidental damage, and the flight of medical workers, the COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc on medical systems in many high income countries is overwhelming remaining medical staff and other frontline workers in Syria –” she continued. “Principled and rights-based humanitarian access must be restored without further delay,” she concluded.

While all parties to the conflict remain largely unwilling to transparently investigate and make public findings in relation to alleged misconduct of their own forces, let alone prosecute perpetrators – the report outlines positive prosecutorial developments in third State national jurisdictions, and notes the Commission’s contribution to more than 60 such investigations, drawing on its nearly 8,000 interviews and initial information concerning more than 3,200 alleged individual perpetrators.

The report concludes that innovative solutions must be pursued to also address broader justice needs of Syrians, inspired by creative approaches taken to address criminal prosecutions and the preservation of evidence in the Syrian conflict.

“The time is long overdue for further initiatives in additional areas of justice and recent history has shown that inaction at the UN Security Council need not prevent action on other fronts,” recalled Commissioner Hanny Megally. “Victims’  demands for justice and accountability are a central component of any durable peace.  The restorative justice measures that Syrians have called for time and again – on the missing, the disappeared, the arbitrarily detained, on support to families, the demobilisation of child fighters, the provision of holistic psychosocial support, in particular for children and victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and the preservation and restoration of vital civil documentation, among other issues – cannot be left till after the conflict ends,” he concluded.   

The report concludes by calling for a permanent, genuine, ceasefire, endorsed by the Security Council and enforced by the key Member States supporting the Government and armed groups in Syria.  

The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 11 March during an interactive dialogue at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council.


The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, and Mr. Hanny Megally has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic.

More information, including the Commission’s previous 33 reports, can be found on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic's webpage.

Media contact:  Rolando Gómez, Media Officer, OHCHR, Human Rights Council Branch, [email protected] + 41 79 477 4411, or Matthew Brown, Public Information Officer, OHCHR, Human Rights Council Branch, [email protected] + 41 79 201 0125