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Aleppo aerial campaign deliberately targeted hospitals and humanitarian convoy amounting to war crimes, while armed groups’ indiscriminate shelling terrorised civilians – UN Commission

01 March 2017

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic


GENEVA (1 March 2017) – The brutal tactics used by the parties to the conflict in Syria as they engaged in the decisive battle for Aleppo city between July and December 2016 resulted in unparalleled suffering for  Syrian men, women and children and amount to war crimes, according to a UN report released today.

In their report based on 291 interviews, including with residents of Aleppo city, and the review of satellite imagery, photographs, videos and medical records, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic documents daily Syrian and Russian airstrikes against eastern Aleppo over several months which steadily destroyed vital civilian infrastructure resulting in disastrous consequences for the civilian population.

By using brutal siege tactics reminiscent of medieval warfare to force surrender, Government forces and their allies prevented the civilian population of eastern Aleppo city from accessing food and basic supplies while relentless airstrikes pounded the city for months, deliberately targeting hospitals and clinics, killing and maiming civilians, and reducing eastern Aleppo to rubble, the report states.

By late November 2016 when pro-Government forces on the ground took control over eastern Aleppo, no functioning hospitals or other medical facilities remained. The intentional targeting of these medical facilities amounts to war crimes, the Commission concludes. 

In the report, mandated by the Human Rights Council at its 25th special session in October 2016, the three-person Commission also notes how armed groups indiscriminately shelled civilian-inhabited areas of western Aleppo city with improvised weapons, causing many civilian casualties. A number of these attacks were carried out without a clear military target and had no other purpose than to terrorise the civilian population.

“The violence in Aleppo documented in our report should focus the international community on the continued, cynical disregard for the laws of war by the warring parties in Syria. The deliberate targeting of civilians has resulted in the immense loss of human life, including hundreds of children", said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro.

In one of the most horrific attacks investigated by the Commission, Syrian Air Force deliberately targeted a United Nations/Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy in Orum al-Kubra, Aleppo countryside. The attack killed 14 aid workers, destroyed 17 trucks carrying aid supplies, and led to the suspension of all humanitarian aid in the Syrian Arab Republic, further aggravating the unspeakable suffering of Syrian civilians.

“Under no circumstances can humanitarian aid workers be targeted. A deliberate attack against them such as the one that took place in Orum al-Kubra amounts to war crimes and those responsible must be held accountable for their actions”, said Commissioner Carla del Ponte.

The repeated bombardments, which also destroyed schools, orphanages, markets, and residential homes, effectively made civilian life impossible and precipitated surrender. The report further stresses that Syrian aircraft used chlorine – a chemical agent prohibited under international law - against the civilian population of eastern Aleppo, causing significant physical and psychological harm to hundreds of civilians.

As it became clear that eastern Aleppo would be taken by pro-Government forces, all parties continued to commit brutal and widespread violations, the report states. In some districts, armed groups shot at civilians to prevent them from leaving, effectively using them as human shields. Pro-government forces on the ground, composed mostly of Syrian and foreign militias, executed hors de combat fighters and perceived opposition supporters, including family members of fighters. Others were arrested and their whereabouts remain unknown.

The report also notes that the eastern Aleppo evacuation agreement forced thousands of civilians - despite a lack of military necessity or deference to the choice of affected individuals - to move to Government-controlled western Aleppo whilst others were taken to Idlib where they are once more living under bombardments. In line with the precedents of Moadamyia and Darayya, this agreement confirms the regrettable trend whereby parties to the conflict in Syria use civilian populations as bargaining chips for political purposes.

“Some of these agreements amount to forced displacement. It is imperative that the parties refrain from similar future agreements and provide the conditions for the safe return of those who wish to go back to their homes in eastern Aleppo”, said Commissioner Karen AbuZayd.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Carla Del Ponte, and Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd 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.

The full report and supporting documentation can be found on the Human Rights Council web page dedicated to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic:

The report is scheduled to be presented on 14 March during an interactive dialogue at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council.


For further media information: 

(Geneva) Rolando Gómez, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Tel: +4179-4774411, email: [email protected], Cédric Sapey, OHCHR, Tel: +41-79-201 0125, email: [email protected], Elizabeth Throssell, OHCHR, [email protected], Tel: +41 22 917 9466