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UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Continued hostilities and lawlessness countrywide render safe and sustainable returns impossible

28 February 2019

GENEVA, 28 February 2019 – Despite a general winding-down of hostilities in the Syrian Arab Republic, widespread violations and lawlessness paint a stark reality for civilians, the UN Commission of Inquiry notes in its latest report.

In a 20-page report released today, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic highlights how on-going hostilities and attendant violations negatively affect the safe and sustainable return of millions of internally displaced persons and refugees.

Between July 2018 and January 2019, intense fighting continued in both northwest and eastern Syria with civilians bearing the brunt, the report notes. The situation was marked by war crimes and crimes against humanity, including launching indiscriminate attacks, deliberately attacking protected objects, pillaging, and persecution, including by armed groups.

“First and foremost, hostilities remain on-going with little to no regard for the laws of war, human rights law, or basic human compassion for those suffering its effects,” said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro. “Attacks by pro-Government forces in Idlib and western Aleppo, as well as those carried out by Syrian Democratic Forces and the international coalition in Dayr al-Zawr, continue to cause scores of civilian casualties,” he added.

Beyond clashes, seven years of prolonged hostilities have generated numerous security vacuums, elevating the risk of both continued violence in many areas and impunity for serious human rights violations. The three Commissioners emphasised that the scope and scale of violations create extensive barriers to safe and sustainable return.

“On-going violations by all sides – coupled with the destruction of vital infrastructure, lack of effective service provision and civil documentation – have created conditions that render the possibility for safe und sustainable return completely illusory,” said Commissioner Karen AbuZayd.

Over the last six months, as pro-Government forces consolidated vast swathes of territorial control, hundreds of thousands of Syrian men, women, and children transitioned into a new grim reality.

“In recently retaken areas — Douma, Dara’a, and northern Homs, for example, Government forces engendered a climate of fear through a campaign of arbitrary arrests and detentions in the aftermath of bombardments,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally. “Upon securing control over these and other areas, civilians began witnessing a flagrant absence of the rule of law and arbitrary use of State power reminiscent of the conditions that sparked this horrific conflict in the first place,” he noted.

After years living under siege, Syrian women, men, and children in areas recently retaken by Government forces further faced numerous legal and administrative challenges to access key rights, including vital civil documentation, education, medical care, and adequate housing, particularly affecting women. 

In areas under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces, thousands of women, men and children continue to be unlawfully interned in makeshift camps in Raqqah, Dayr al-Zawr, and Hasakah, and denied the possibility to leave, the report finds. The situation of those internally displaced elsewhere also remains dire.

The Commission emphasizes that any plans for the return of those displaced both within and outside of Syria must be made in accordance with a rights-based approach.

The report proposes a series of practical recommendations aimed at addressing the complex issue of returns, and lays out conditions which must be met before civilians can return to Syria. These include the substantial and permanent reduction of hostilities; rapid, safe, unimpeded, unconditional, and sustained access to humanitarian and medical relief; and genuine guarantees by all parties that returnees will not face persecution, discrimination, arbitrary detention, torture or any other form of mistreatment. 

The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 12 March during an interactive dialogue at the 40th 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 Twitter and its webpage.