Syria: Civilians continue to suffer from wide-ranging human rights violations, says UN Commission of Inquiry


On September 6, 2017, the UN Commission of Inquiry released its latest report addressing the major trends and patterns of international human rights and humanitarian law violations committed between March and July 2017.

The commission found that all the parties to the conflict “continue to perpetrate unthinkable crimes against civilians in and away from the battlefield in blatant violation of international law, including forced displacement, deliberate attacks against civilians, and the use of chemical weapons.”

Violations by Syrian government and armed groups

The commission denounced the evacuation agreements that have resulted in the forced displacement of civilian populations for political gains. A number of local truces between pro-government forces and armed groups, including the so called “Four Towns Agreement,” have led to the forced displacement of thousands of civilians.

This practice can be considered a war crime, as international humanitarian law stipulates that parties to a non-international armed conflict must not order the displacement of the civilian population for reasons related to the conflict.

The report also found that government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas. Since the beginning of the conflict, government forces have conducted indiscriminate attacks in densely populated areas, especially through the use of illegal weapons such as barrel bombs , cluster munitions  and chemical weapons, causing the death of thousands of people.

The report also addressed the human rights violations committed by non-state actors such as the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, Islamic State (IS) and other armed groups that have been involved in sectarian violence. On April 15, 2017, in al-Rashidin, Aleppo, a single car bombing targeted displaced civilians from previously besieged Fu’ah and Kafraya — two predominantly Shia Muslim towns — killing nearly 100 people.

Violations by international parties to the conflict

In the report, US forces are accused of failing to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects when attacking armed groups. The report mentions the partial destruction of a mosque complex in al-Jinah, Aleppo, in March 2017. More recently, US-led air attacks targeting Islamic State militants in Raqqa resulted in the death of 100 civilians.

According to Airwars, an NGO monitoring and assessing civilian casualties from international airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Libya, the number of civilian deaths in American-led airstrikes has increased since the beginning of the offensive to retake Raqqa from IS.

Russian airstrikes, which have bombarded rebel-held areas in Syria since 2015, are probably responsible for thousands more civilian deaths. Such indiscriminate attacks conducted by international parties to the Syrian conflict on the civilian population may constitute war crimes.

The Commission’s methodology

The Commission of Inquiry was established by a Resolution  of the Human Rights Council  on August 22, 2011, to investigate “all alleged violations of international human rights law [in Syria] since March 2011,” and to ensure that “perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute a crime against humanity, are held accountable.”

The methodology employed by the commission is based on the consultation of human rights NGOs. In addition to cases submitted to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances ( WGEID ) involving government forces, Alkarama regularly raises cases of enforced disappearances committed by other armed groups, including IS, the Al Nusra Front, the Hezbollah, and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry.

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