United Nations Human Rights Council
Thirty-fifth session, 6 to 23 June 2017

Report- Oral update of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
14th June 2017

Written by: Siddharth Abraham Srikanth

On 14th June 2017, during the 35th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council held in Geneva, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic delivered an oral update concerning the realities of the current situation on the ground.

The increasing number of actors involved in the war, the complexity of the situation, the overlapping and contrasting interests, and the failure of reaching permanent and comprehensive peaceful settlements have turned the Syrian Arab Republic into a bloody battlefield. According to GICJ information, all parties involved have committed heinous crimes, breached international human rights law, and subsequently caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The situation has further worsened due to the economic breakdown and the permanent damage to public infrastructures.

The Chair of the Commission, Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, addressing the Council for the twentieth time, began by highlighting the “unspeakable toll of violence being inflicted on the Syrian people”. He said that the civilians are in the unenviable role of being, sometimes even intentionally, the common target of the warring parties.

On the flip side, the de-escalation zones agreed upon by Russia, Iran and Turkey in the last round of the Astana talks have resulted in a discernible fall in the levels of violence around Idlib and western Aleppo. However, hostilities continue unabated in and around Homs, Damascus and the south of Dara’a, with a complete and utter disregard for civilian protection laws. Mr. Pinheiro regrettably informed the Council that fighting remains brutal in purpose and reprehensible in method, with the unrestrained use of airstrikes against residential neighbourhoods, attacks on hospitals, and the use of civilian-targeting suicide bombers becoming part and parcel of life in Syria.

Furthermore, the de-escalation zones have yet to bring any tangible improvement with regard to the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the UN has been permitted only a single humanitarian delivery this year. Outside the de-escalation zones, there is absolutely no respite for the innocent civilians.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has rapidly lost territory in northern and central Syria over the past few months, with the Syrian Democratic Forces (backed by the international coalition) currently expelling the ISIL forces from its de facto capital of Raqqa. If successful, this offensive could especially liberate the Yazidi women and girls who have been sexually enslaved for almost three years as part of an ongoing and unaddressed genocide carried out by the barbaric ISIL. At the same time, Mr. Pinheiro emphasized that this fight against terrorism must not be undertaken at the expense of civilians who helplessly reside in areas controlled and plagued by the ISIL. He made it clear, on behalf of the COI, that warring parties must abide by international humanitarian legal obligations, particularly the rules of distinction, proportionality and precaution, in order for civilian protection to be ensured. For example, the intensification of airstrikes, one of the main reasons for the SDF’s recent progress in Raqqa, have internally displaced 160,000 civilians and killed many more. The ends simply do not justify the means.

Likewise, agreements between the governmental forces and armed groups have internally displaced thousands in cities including but not limited to Barzeh, al-Waer, Madaya and Kefraya. A majority of these IDPs have been forced to move to Idlib and others to northern and western Aleppo. Mr. Pinheiro pointed out that it is these IDPs who are particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as those evacuating Foua and Kefraya in mid-April were targeted by a terrorist bombing that killed 68 children. To make matters worse, in Idlib, the presence of a conglomeration of extremist factions named Hay’et Tahrir el-Sham makes even the areas currently populated by civilians subject to aerial bombardments by pro-governmental forces. Another sombre example of the dangers that life in the Idlib governorate poses was the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4th, 2017, which left 83 dead and 293 injured.

In some cases, the evacuation agreements themselves amount to war crimes, as they appear to be primarily motivated by the strategic considerations of the negotiating parties and generally eschew the participation of civilians, who are given no choice but to leave. There additionally exist severe shortages of food and necessities, owing to the prolonged and deliberate denial of humanitarian aid to the 600,000 people currently trapped in besieged areas. Civilian life is made impossible by daily airstrikes on hospitals, markets, bakeries, schools and mosques.

The Commission of Inquiry accentuated the imperativeness of the generation of meaningful momentum for peace, and called upon all parties involved to ensure that any de-escalation in hostilities goes hand-in-hand with renewed efforts to access communities in need. Mr. Pinheiro listed the meaningful accountability for the “catalogue of horrors” documented by the Commission as a top priority. He further insisted that this utter disrespect, not only for international norms and human rights law but also for the basic notions of humanity, by the conflicting actors must not continue to go unaddressed.

The COI concluded by reaffirming that the Human Rights Council remains the voice of conscience in the face of these mass atrocities, and reminded the Member States that only a durable political solution will bring a culmination to this conflict. Mr. Pinheiro pointed out that the establishment of de-escalation zones in the recent past can aid potential political discussions in the near future, within the Geneva framework led by Special Envoy De Mistura, and that full support must be given to Security Council resolution 2254 in addition to the principles of the Geneva communiqués, with an inclusive political settlement being the sole long-term hope to end the agony of Syrian civilians.

Participation of GICJ at Human Rights Council Sessions

Human Rights Council - 35th regular session (6 June - 24 June 2017)

Human Rights Council - 34th regular session (27 February - 24 March 2017)

Human Rights Council - 33rd regular session (10 September - 30 September 2016)

Human Rights Council - 32nd regular session (13 June - 1 and 8 July 2016)

Human Rights Council - 31st regular session (29 February - 24 March 2016)

Human Rights Council - 30th regular session (14 September - 2 October 2015)

Human Rights Council - 29th regular session (15 June - 3 July 2015)

Human Rights Council - 22nd special session on the human rights situation in Iraq in light of abuses committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups - 1 September 2014:

Human Rights Council - 21st special session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem - 23 July 2014:

Human Rights Council - 26th regular session (10 - 27 June 2014):

Human Rights Council - 25th regular session (3 - 28 March 2014):

Human Rights Council - 24th regular session (9 - 27 September 2013):

Human Rights Council - 23rd regular session (27 May - 14 June 2013):

Human Rights Council - 22nd regular session (25 February - 22 March 2013):

Human Rights Council - 21st regular session (10 - 28 September, 5 November 2012):

Human Rights Council - 19th regular session (27 February - 23 March 2012):

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