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Statements Independent investigation

Statement by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic / 56th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

03 July 2024

Monsieur le Président du Conseil des Droits de l´Homme,


For more than a decade, we have documented extensive human rights violations and war crimes across the Syrian territory by all parties to the conflict.

There has been a consistent disregard for the lives and wellbeing of the Syrian people with no end in sight. The situation on the ground has grown more complex with a crumbling economy, a devastating humanitarian situation, which has worsened due to the earthquake last year, increasing reliance on drug manufacturing and trade, and a State unwilling and to a certain extent unable to safeguard its people’s safety and security. Six foreign armies are engaged militarily in the country. Adding further complexity to this landscape is the risks posed by the Israel/Palestine conflict and the likelihood for further escalation in Syria and the region.

Equally concerning is the deepening fragmentation of the country on all fronts, which will have considerable repercussions in the long-term, including on Syria’s social fabric and unity.

Appalling cycles of violence continue. In Sanamin, Deraa, on 7th April, ten civilians, including two children, were killed by a pro-government militia, reportedly in retaliation for an IED attack in which at least seven children were killed. Massacres such as this invoke the atrocities committed with impunity during the conflict, including during the darkest days of Da’esh rule. And five years after Da’esh lost its territorial hold, we continue to document brutal attacks by Da’esh elements in northeast and central Syria.

Respect for the rule of law and accountability are also needed in opposition-held areas. We have received reports of recent positive steps in Syrian National Army (SNA) areas to hold armed group members accountable for serious violations of human rights law. However, at the same time, we continue to document cases of individual SNA members involved in torture and ill-treatment of detainees in their custody.

M. le Président,

While the tempo of the conflict has ebbed and flowed, the root causes that led to it are still very much present. From ongoing demonstrations calling for political reform and accountability in Sweida in the south of the country – now in their tenth month – to demonstrations against Hayat Tahrir al Sham’s authoritarian rule in Idlib –now in their fifth month - and the recent eruption of protests in north Aleppo, Syrians are calling for, and deserve, better.

Instead, across a divided Syria, we see predatory security forces and militias overseeing fiefdoms extorting monetary gain from civilians, rather than ensuring protection and the rule of law. Incommunicado detention and enforced disappearances continue, with families of those unlawfully detained often compelled to pay large sums of money to try to obtain information on the fate of their loved ones. Syrian refugees recently returning from Lebanon have reportedly been detained and their whereabouts are now unknown. Drug trafficking and smuggling have spread, with the involvement of pro and anti-government factions, causing further insecurity.

Unlawful occupation, confiscation and destruction of homes, land and property of IDPs and refugees continue in a “slow-motion” but steady fashion, further eroding their rights and rendering the prospects of their return home more elusive every day.

The long-running conflict and its consequences have thus become further entrenched. Impunity and lawlessness have shaped a grim reality for all Syrians, with no end in sight. World leaders involved with the conflict in Syria are failing to achieve progress towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict; and they and the Syrian Government are failing the Syrian people. The former UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Martin Griffiths’ recent observation that such failure: “is most evident in the leaders who, with such callous disregard for the consequences on their own people and others, remorselessly reach for the gun instead of pursuing diplomatic solutions” perfectly reflects the dynamics which drive the Syrian conflict.


The normalization track that some Arab states led last year, and that saw Syria rejoin the League of Arab States, has yet to bring results as, reportedly, no further meaningful concessions were made by the Syrian government. Both the government and the international community seem bizarrely content to maintain the status quo.

Yet, this is not a viable option for the Syrian people, whether inside and outside the country. Internally, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, and death in detention continue while violence and insecurity plague different parts of the country and the economy flat-lines. In neighbouring countries, Syrians are increasingly at risk of deportation and forced return to Syria, where they risk being arrested or disappeared, or returning to find their homes and farms destroyed and no means of livelihood.

More positively, outside the country, Syrian civil society has been leading highly creative accountability initiatives. These have led to the recent verdict in Paris which found three high-ranking Syrian officials guilty of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes against two French Syrian nationals killed in detention. They also include their active support to the International Court of Justice proceedings regarding Syrian State torture, which ruled for provisional measures in the case brought by Canada and the Netherlands against Syria for violations of the Convention Against Torture. We hope this will be the start for further steps to hold all perpetrators accountable.

Another positive development was the long-awaited establishment of an institution dedicated to helping the families of the thousands of missing and disappeared uncover the fate of their loved ones. We are not naïve about the challenges ahead but were very glad to see the voice of these families heard after many years of advocacy, which we supported from the start.

M. le Président, Excellences,

When we address you here at the Council you often ask us what more can you do to help the Syrian people. In addition to continuing to support accountability efforts and the institution for the missing, we would like to propose three critical areas where your Governments’ action is urgently needed. The first is the situation of those detained arbitrarily since 2019 in northeast Syria. Some states are doing their best to repatriate their nationals. Those who have not need to follow suit and bring their citizens home. Our policy paper this March dealt with the specific issue of the now 28,000 children arbitrarily detained in camps in the northeast. As for Syrians who originate in that area, they are gradually returning to their communities, albeit with a few challenges, but those who came from government-controlled areas are at great risk if they are involuntarily returned there. Your Governments’ help is needed in assisting the authorities in the northeast to find a solution for them too.

The second is the imposition of unilateral coercive measures (UCMs) by some of your Governments on Syria. It is now clear there are seriously adverse, sometimes unintended, consequences that negatively impact the civilian population. The Secretary General’s report of June last year described how humanitarian organizations face both increased costs in their procurement and delays in delivery of goods and financial transactions due to complex UCM compliance assessments. We urge Member States to conduct urgent reviews of their imposition of sanctions to ensure that these negative impacts are eliminated.

The final area is your Governments’ alarming lack of support for the humanitarian response plan for 2024. We are now at the halfway point and only 13% of the 4.07 billion dollars needed has been raised. We are aware that numerous other crises need attention, but the Syrian people cannot just be dropped because of this. They have endured 13 years of conflict and deserve more help from your Governments.

I thank you.