Skip to main content

Press releases Independent investigation

UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Unprecedented levels of displacement and dire conditions for civilians in the Syrian Arab Republic

02 March 2020


Geneva, 2 March 2020 – The armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic is far from over as the types of human rights violations continue to multiply , the Commission of Inquiry said in its report published today covering the period between 11 July 2019 to 10 January 2020. After nearly nine years, Syrian women, children and men continue to face unprecedented levels of suffering and pain.

Civilians previously forcibly displaced through ‘reconciliation’ agreements or having fled battles are now subsisting in the ever-shrinking spaces in Idlib and Western Aleppo Governorates, under the rule of the terrorist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

In their declared fight against terrorism, pro-Government forces carried out aerial and ground attacks in southern Idlib that killed and injured scores of civilians and decimated civilian infrastructure, including markets, camps for displaced persons and most notably hospitals. These include indiscriminate attacks against protected objects and the use of cluster munitions.

The persistent aerial bombardments in parts of southern Idlib left civilians with no choice but to flee.  The majority of the 948,000 civilians displaced in the northwest are women and children, with thousands sheltering in the open during the harsh winter months. The crisis in Idlib – where more than three million people are currently stranded – is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe, where families are constantly on the run and children are freezing to death.

Armed groups carried out attacks on areas under Government control, including southern Aleppo, causing casualties and instilling fear among the civilian population, prompting many of them to leave. In restive areas in Idlib governorate, HTS terrorists attempted to tighten its grip over the already beleaguered population by arbitrarily detaining activists, journalists, and other individuals for openly expressing dissent. HTS continued to recruit and use children to participate actively in hostilities.

The advance by Turkish Forces and the Syrian National Army (SNA), under the moniker Operation Peace Spring, followed the sudden withdrawal of United States’ troops in early October. Hostilities triggered the displacement of more than 100,000 people in the span of 24 hours, between 10 and 11 October, as did pillaging and property appropriation.  

In formerly besieged areas, such as eastern Ghutah and Homs, conditions for return remained largely absent with significant barriers in place for civilians to claim their property. Where ‘reconciliation’ agreements were previously imposed, ubiquitous checkpoints created fear among the civilian population and restricted freedom of movement and access to basic services.

Gender roles, and the inequalities that underpin them, have fuelled and amplified the direct impact of human rights violations on Syrians of all backgrounds. In Afrin district, females, and in particular those from ethnic and religious communities have been adversely affected by the conflict. “Women and girls belonging to the Kurdish and Yazidi minority groups saw their movement restricted and were harassed when venturing outside. Such acts undermine women’s ability to participate meaningfully and contribute to their community. This must stop”, Commissioner Hanny Megally declared.

Parties to the conflict continue to ignore or deny protection, including guarantees of sustained and unhindered humanitarian assistance, to vulnerable civilians. “The immediate priority must be for all civilians to have access to the food, water and medical assistance they urgently require. Facilitating access for monitors and protection actors is also key to safeguard the rights of civilians.” said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations for the Government, parties to the conflict and the international community to improve the protection of civilians. “I urge all parties to the conflict to engage in good faith dialogue to bring an end to this tragic conflict and to allow unfettered humanitarian aid and assistance through to all people in need immediately”, urged Commission of Inquiry Chair Paulo Pinheiro.

The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 10 March during an interactive dialogue at 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.

Media contact:  Rolando Gómez, Media Officer, OHCHR, Human Rights Council Branch, [email protected] or +41 22 917 9711 / + 41 79 477 4411