Marked increase in fighting and a rapidly plummeting economy require urgent Syrian and international responses, UN Syria Commission of Inquiry warns
GENEVA (12 September 2023) – Despite diplomatic efforts to stabilize the situation in Syria, including through its re-admission to the League of Arab States, Syrians suffered from escalating fighting and unrest along multiple frontlines, extremely severe economic deterioration and persistent human rights violations and abuses, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria warned in its latest report today.
“Before Syria plunges deeper into escalating violence and economic decline, we call on the key actors to cease attacks on civilians and respond to their dire needs, and urge the government in Damascus to take heed and to respond positively to Syrians’ legitimate aspirations and rights as key to ending the conflict,” said Chair of the Commission Paulo Pinheiro, commenting on the recent wave of demonstrations.
The Commission reiterated the need for States to review their unilateral coercive measures and their impact on ordinary Syrians and humanitarian actors, including due to over-compliance. Constructive steps taken to ease sanctions in response to the earthquake should be maintained. Given the dire needs, the Commission also called for an urgent review of the efficacy and delivery of international aid.
Following the devastating earthquakes in February, the report documents how the Government and other parties needlessly hindered life-saving aid, and continued shelling targets in the earthquake-affected area. A single airstrike on 25 June killed or injured over 37 civilians at an outdoor vegetable market in Idlib that should have been observable to the targeting forces. Of the 15 attacks that the Commission’s new report documents in the earthquake affected area, several may constitute war crimes. Suspected Israeli airstrikes rendered key transport infrastructure inoperable, with reverberating effects on humanitarian operations.
“These instances, as well as the failure of the UN Security Council to reach a consensus in July to extend cross-border aid deliveries via the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing, stand as a stark reminder of how hostilities, politicization and fragmentation in Syria harm civilians and deprive them of much-needed assistance. There needs to be a thorough review of the lessons to be learned from the failures of the earthquake response,” Commissioner Lynn Welchman said. “Is it too much to ask that the parties and the international community ensure that cross-border humanitarian assistance can continue at the necessary scale and in a principled, needs-based and sustainable manner?”
Recent weeks have also seen increased conflict in greater Idlib, displacing thousands, and in Deir-Ezzor, killing dozens, as well as an outbreak of large-scale protests clamouring for economic, social, civil and political rights in Government controlled-areas, notably Suweida.
Insecurity remains rife far beyond frontlines, rendering the safe return of Syrian refugees implausible. The Commission also documented specific cases where Syrian refugees returning from neighbouring countries were ill-treated by Syrian security forces. Some were blackmailed for their release, and others detained by security services. Several of them, including children, have since gone missing.
Parties to the conflict continued to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity by arbitrarily detaining, torturing, forcibly disappearing and executing civilians in areas under their control.
The Commission reiterated its call for the release of all persons arbitrarily detained in Syria and for independent monitors to have access to all places of detention.
In Al Hawl and Rawj camps, the Commission documented living conditions that continue to amount to cruel and inhuman treatment and outrages on personal dignity for an estimated 52,000 people, mainly women and children, held there for nearly five years.
“We commend States who since January have repatriated over 2,000 women and children, and call for such repatriations to continue,” said Pinheiro. “We also call on States to bring home male adult citizens detained in northeast Syria, and to hold alleged perpetrators among them accountable for Da’esh war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in proceedings compliant with fair trial standards.”
In June, the self-administration in the northeast expressed its readiness to try an estimated 2,000 such foreign men and boys locally, a massive case load. This raises concerns given the lack of compliance with fair trial standards in similar trials in past of Syrian suspects.
In a positive development, the Commission noted the announcement by the International Court of Justice that it will hold public hearings on 10 and 11 October concerning the proceedings against the Syrian Arab Republic in relation to its obligations under the Convention against Torture. While individual Syrian officials have been convicted for the crime against humanity of torture, this is the first time the Syrian State itself will be required to defend its record. The Commission has long documented torture by the Syrian Government and most other parties to the conflict, and hopes that survivors and their families will be afforded the opportunity to take part meaningfully in these proceedings.
Families seeking clarity on the fate of detained, disappeared and missing loved ones also received long-awaited welcome news following the establishment of the Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria by the General Assembly in June.
“We welcome the landmark resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in June creating a dedicated institution for missing persons in Syria,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally. “The expectation of the families is that the best expertise, methodology, technology, and resources, will be mobilised both in the search for the missing and in providing assistance and psychosocial support to those impacted.”
The Commission will present its latest mandate report to the UN Human Rights Council on 22 September.
Background: The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was established on 22 August 2011 by the Human Rights Council through resolution S-17/1.The mandate of the Commission is to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Human Rights Council also tasked the Commission with establishing the facts and circumstances that may amount to such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and, where possible, to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable. The Human Rights Council has repeatedly extended the Commission's mandate since then, most recently until 31 March 2024.
More information on the work of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria can be found at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/iici-syria/independent-international-commission
For media requests, please contact: Johan Eriksson, UN Syria Commission of Inquiry Media Adviser, at + 41 76 691 0411 / [email protected]; or Todd Pitman, Media Adviser, Investigative Mandates, at +41 76 691 17 61 / [email protected]; or Pascal Sim, Human Rights Council Media Officer at +41 22 917 9763 / [email protected].