Commission of Inquiry on Syria: civilians bearing the brunt of the “unrelenting spiral of violence”

The Commission of Inquiry on Syria presented to the Human Rights Council its latest report on the situation in Syria.

The Chair of the Commission, Paulo Pinheiro, told the Council that gross human rights violations had increased in pace and scale and that the situation was “difficult to describe justly in few words”.

A 12 month investigation, which included over 1100 interviews, led the Commissioners to conclude that both pro and anti-Government forces were to blame for the escalation of violence in the areas of Aleppo, Damascus, Dera, Latakia, Idlib and Homs where air strikes and shelling occurred in residential neighbourhoods on a daily basis.

The inquiry found that Government forces and the Government backed militia known as Shabbiha have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and gross human rights violations. These crimes included murder, summary execution, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, violations of children’s rights, pillaging and destruction of civilian objects- including hospitals and schools.

Anti-Government armed groups have also committed war crimes mainly directed at Government soldiers, informers and alleged members of Shabbiha, including murder, extrajudicial executions and torture.

“It is apparent that the crimes and abuses committed by anti-Government armed groups, though serious, did not reach the gravity, frequency and scale of those committed by the Government forces and Shabbiha,” Pinheiro said.

He confirmed the increasing presence of foreign armed elements, including Jihadist militants who were either joining anti-Government forces or operating independently. Syrian ethnic and religious minorities were also organizing in self-defence groups, proof of increasing sectarian tensions in Syria.

The Commission noted that Government forces had cordoned off areas that were being shelled, resulting in high numbers of civilian deaths and shortages of food, water, gas and medical supplies. Pinheiro added that according to the Turkish Government, 60 per cent of Syrian refugees in Turkey fled from Idlib, one of the areas which sustained indiscriminate shelling throughout August.

“The socio-economic and humanitarian situation has further deteriorated due to the cumulative effect of conflict and economic sanctions. The Commission maintains that sanctions result in a denial of the most basic human rights of the Syrian people,” he stressed. “Scarcity of basic human needs such as potable water, food, electricity, petrol and cooking fuel is causing rampant inflation.”

Pinheiro also noted that the conflict was spilling into neighbouring countries, threatening the stability of the region. He urged the international community to renew its support to the mission of the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi.

“A political settlement is imperative as there is no military solution to the crisis. The conflict has unfolded for 18 months, with a confrontation of multiple internal and external actors, and appears set to continue until the exhaustion of one side or the other,” he said. “Enhancing the military capacity of the Government, or supplying arms to its opponents, only aggravates and ultimately extends the conflict.”

Pihneiro revealed that the Commissioners had collected “an extraordinary body of evidence” and “a second confidential list of individuals and units believed to be responsible for violations” that would remain in the custody of the UN Human Rights Office for future investigations by national or international justice mechanisms.

 18 September 2012

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