Skip to main content

Press releases Independent investigation

UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Unparalleled numbers of Syrians displaced in under six months

12 September 2018


GENEVA (12 September 2018) – Unprecedented levels of internal displacement – not seen throughout the seven-year conflict – took place in Syria, the UN Commission of Inquiry notes in its latest report.

In under six months, as pro-Government forces moved to recapture large swathes of territory from armed groups and terrorist organisations, over one million Syrian men, women, and children were displaced with most now living in dire conditions. The three-person Commission warns against what may happen next in Idlib governorate if efforts to reach a negotiated settlement fail. 

In a 24-page report released today, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic highlights six key battles that led to mass internal displacement and the plight of those civilians uprooted from their homes. Between January and June, intense fighting took place in Aleppo, northern Homs, Damascus, Rif Damascus, Dara’a, and Idlib governorates, the report notes. Most battles were marked by war crimes including launching indiscriminate attacks, deliberately attacking protected objects, using prohibited weapons, pillaging and/or forced displacement, including by armed groups. In other instances, parties to the conflict failed to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians, as required by international humanitarian law.

Displaced Syrians face myriad hardships and challenges to their livelihoods, including the lack of access to sufficient food, water, medial services, basic sanitation facilities, and adequate accommodation.

“It is completely inexcusable that no party to this conflict adhered to their obligations towards civilians displaced by their military operations,” said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro. “This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which should serve as a clear reminder to all parties that they can and must do more to prevent further internal displacement and to confront the challenges faced by over 6.5 million persons displaced countrywide,” he continued.

Not all displaced civilians fled from clashes, the report notes. Pro-Government forces reached local truces with armed groups in northern Homs, Damascus, and Rif Damascus governorates which incorporated “evacuation agreements” causing additional displacement.

“Tens of thousands were also forcibly displaced within the framework of these so-called ‘evacuation agreements’,” noted Commissioner Karen AbuZayd. “Even so, the responsibility to provide them with food, water, and adequate living conditions remains with the parties negotiating and undertaking these agreements. They have all neglected that responsibility,” she added.

The report highlights the situation of internally displaced persons in Rif Damascus. In Government controlled areas, thousands of displaced civilians continue to endure hardships in severely overcrowded and/or under-resourced sites, where many are still being unlawfully interned by Government forces.

“The battles to regain territory by the Government have come at an extremely high cost to civilians,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally. “Some areas including Yarmouk camp in Damascus or parts of eastern Ghouta were left so heavily destroyed that there is no foreseeable possibility of civilian return,” he added. “Many of these civilians are now surviving in tents or abandoned buildings in the northwest, and living on extremely limited and rationed humanitarian aid.”

The Commission warns that a large proportion of those displaced currently languish in Idlib, where another offensive launched with little regard for civilian life would generate a catastrophic human rights and humanitarian crisis.

The Commission urges all parties to the conflict in Syria, and the international community, to prioritise the plight of those internally displaced and proposes a set of feasible recommendations which require only political will. These recommendations, aimed at addressing the issues affecting civilians displaced as a result of the conflict, include: ensuring proper accommodation is provided for them, that they are not interned, that consent for international humanitarian assistance is not denied arbitrarily by the state, and that they retain their right to return in safety and dignity to their former homes. The Commission also highlighted the need for an independent and impartial body to review claims relating to property rights and restitution, and emphasised the importance of ensuring women are able to participate in this process on an equal basis.

The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 17 September during an interactive dialogue at the 39th 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.

The full report and supporting documentation can be found on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’s webpage.

For further media information:

(Geneva) Rolando Gómez, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Tel: +41 22 917 9711, email: [email protected], Cédric Sapey, OHCHR, Tel: +41 22 917 9845, email: [email protected], or Sarah Lubbersen, OHCHR, Tel: Tel: +41 22 917 9813, [email protected].