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UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Despite tenuous progress on de-escalation in some locations in Syria, civilians continue to suffer from wide-ranging human rights violations and abuse

06 September 2017


GENEVA (6 September 2017) – While warring parties made some progress in localised reductions of violence through de-escalation zones, the parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate unthinkable crimes against civilians in and away from the battlefield in blatant violation of international law, including forced displacement, deliberate attacks against civilians, and the use of chemical weapons, a group of UN experts said today.

In its latest report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria charts the major trends and patterns of international human rights and humanitarian law violations committed between March and July 2017. During this period, warring parties continued to lay sieges and to instrumentalise humanitarian aid to compel surrender. A number of local truces, including the so called “Four Towns Agreement”, incorporated evacuation agreements which resulted in the forced displacement of civilians, a war crime. Many of those displaced now subsist under inadequate living conditions and lack of access to healthcare, the report notes.

“Warring parties must not only refrain from future agreements that forcibly displace civilians for political gains, but they must also ensure adequate protection for all internally displaced persons countrywide, including their rights to life, to adequate food, shelter and medical care, and ultimately their right to return”, stressed Commissioner Karen AbuZayd.

Terrorist groups Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continued to employ brutal tactics against civilians. Terrorist and other armed groups targeted religious minorities through car and suicide bombings, the use of snipers and hostage-taking, including in areas controlled by the Syrian Government. In al-Rashidin (Aleppo), a single car bombing killed 96 people, including 68 internally displaced children, from previously besieged Fu’ah and Kafraya (Idlib). Afterwards, at least 17 civilians were taken hostage by armed groups, while others remain missing.

Government forces continued to deliberately target civilians, including through the use of chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas. As part of an aerial campaign in northern Hama and southern Idlib, on 4 April the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Shaykhun, killing over 80 people, most of whom were women and children. The aerial campaign also targeted medical facilities throughout the area, resulting in a severe weakening of their ability to provide assistance to victims of the sarin attack and a consequent increase in the number of civilian casualties. In Idlib, Hamah, and eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syrian forces used weaponized chlorine. These attacks constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and the Convention on Chemical Weapons, the report notes, which the Syrian Arab Republic ratified in 2013 following a previous sarin attack.

“The parties to this horrific conflict must fundamentally realign their tactics with basic notions of humanity, and the international community must reinvigorate its commitment to meaningful justice and accountability for all perpetrators of crimes, if we are to see a significant shift away from Machiavellian disregard for the interests of the Syrian people and the progress towards alleviating the suffering of civilians”, said Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission.

The report also found that US forces failed to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects when attacking alleged terrorists and destroying part of a mosque complex in al-Jinah, Aleppo in March, in violation of international humanitarian law.

Investigations are ongoing into allegations that international coalition airstrikes, carried out as part of the on-going offensive to repel ISIL from ar-Raqqah, have resulted – and continue to result -- in increasingly alarming numbers of civilians casualties. The Commission is gravely concerned that this offensive has led to the internal displacement of some 190,000 persons, with the fate of some 20,000 others precarious as they remain trapped in ar-Raqqah city, many of them civilians that ISIL reportedly forced to concentrate in areas under its control.

Investigations also continue into allegations that before fleeing Syria, ISIL fighters are trying to sell enslaved Yazidi women and girls – victims of the on-going and largely unaddressed genocide.

By highlighting the violations committed during the reporting period, the report emphasises the pressing need for genuine, concerted, and sustained action from national and international actors to find a political solution and to put an end to grave violations of human rights and the laws of war. States with influence over the warring parties have a particular role to play in finding an effective, political solution to the conflict.


The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, and Ms. Carla Del Ponte 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 18 September during an interactive dialogue at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council.


For further media information:

(Geneva) Rolando Gómez, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Tel: +41-79-4774411, email: [email protected], Cédric Sapey, OHCHR, Tel: +41-79-201 0125, email: [email protected], and Sarah Lubbersen, OHCHR, Tel: +41-22-917-9689, email: [email protected].