Statement by Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, to the 49th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council


18 mars 2022

​18 March 2022

Señor Presidente,

The Syrian civilian population has endured eleven years of crisis and conflict. They are suffering new levels of hardship, through a combination of escalating violence, plunging economy, and a humanitarian disaster. More than half of the pre-war population has been displaced, hundreds of thousands have been killed, over 100,000 are still missing or forcibly disappeared, and Syria’s cities and infrastructure have been destroyed, leaving very weak medical facilities to face a pandemic. Over 90% of the remaining population is now living in poverty. Twelve million people are food insecure and an unprecedented 14.6 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

​ Syrians will be confronting additional hardship as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Inflation is already skyrocketing. The government has begun rationing essential commodities, including fuel. Prices of imports have shot up and there are concerns in Syria as well as elsewhere in the region about the availability of wheat to import.

As living conditions continue to deteriorate, we have called for a review of the impact of unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria. Despite humanitarian exemptions, much more is required to mitigate consequences on the daily lives of civilians brought about by over-compliance, causing shortages and impeding aid.

Parts of the country are still witnessing frontline fighting and bombardment, while violence against civilians is increasing across the country.

In the north and northeast of the country, we saw an increase in skirmishes between the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and pro-Government forces. In the last six months of 2021, artillery shelling against populated areas controlled by pro-government forces and the SDF killed at least 13 and injured more than 91 civilians in incidents in northern Aleppo. Attacks with improvised explosive devices on markets and streets killed and injured scores of civilians.

Targeted killings by unknown individuals on the ground or by State parties to the conflict operating aircraft, including drones, were carried out across the country, further endangering civilians’ lives.

Idlib and western Aleppo in the northwest are continuously being shelled by Syrian and Russian forces, killing at least 64 children in the second half of 2021. Attacks are launched indiscriminately on populated areas, and sophisticated precision-guided weapons are increasingly being used.

For ten long weeks, the population of Dar’a al Balad lived amidst shelling and shortages of essential items. As dozens of civilians were killed and injured, and homes, mosques, medical clinics destroyed, nearly 40,000 people temporarily fled. Despite the lifting of the siege early September, the security situation across the Dar’a countryside continued deteriorating.

 Señor Presidente, Excelencias,

People across the country, regardless of who is in control, live in fear of being arrested for expressing their opinion, belonging to a dissenting political party, reporting for the media or defending human rights.

Practices of torture and ill-treatment in detention continue, in some cases leading to deaths.

Tens of thousands of Syrians are still held incommunicado or forcibly disappeared. Government forces and other parties conceal the fate and whereabouts of detainees, leaving family members in pain, exposing them to extortion for information or danger of arrest when searching for missing loved ones.

We commend the UN General Assembly for adopting resolution 76/228, requesting the Secretary General to study this issue. We have lent our voice to those of the families of missing and disappeared in Syria in calling for the creation of an independent mechanism with an international mandate to coordinate and consolidate claims regarding missing persons, including persons subjected to enforced disappearance.

In January, the attack by ISIL on the Al-Sina`a prison in Hasakah city in the northeast, killing hundreds and displacing thousands, shed light on the detention by the SDF of around 10,000 men and teenage boys suspected of having links with ISIL. The foreigners amongst them have been held there for at least three years without any prospect of being tried.

Close to 60,000 internees, 40,000 of them children and most others women, remain unlawfully interned in camps, such as Al Hol and Al Roj. Without any legal recourse or individual review, they are subject to indefinite detention in appalling conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Children are deprived of their most basic rights. Along with their mothers, they are under constant risk of being injured, killed, or trafficked. There was a small increase in repatriations by Member States of their citizens from the camps. We reiterate our call for the repatriation of all third country nationals, in particular children with their mothers.

Señor Presidente, Excelencias,

Gender-based discrimination and violence continue in Syria, with women and girls being disproportionately impacted, subjected to a range of violations  depending on the armed group in charge of the area. The Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) terrorist group controlling the Idlib pocket enforces so-called morality codes which amounts to gender-based discrimination. Women also suffer sexual and gender-based violence in detention, and in their daily life as they navigate restrictions imposed by armed groups, the myriad checkpoints where they are particularly vulnerable, and the array of challenges that predate the current crisis that have only been made worse by the conflict. Girls are increasingly forced into early marriages and boys are sent to work or recruited into the conflict.

Some countries deport Syrian refugees, arguing that some parts of Syria are now safe. But the Syrian conflict has not ended. In places, it is escalating, with armed actors preying on segments of the population. While some may wish to return voluntarily and have the right to do so, the targeting of individuals based on perceived or actual affiliation persist across the country, regardless of who is in control.

On the accountability front, as the systemic failures in investigations into possible war crimes by the United States-led coalition were widely highlighted by the media last year, we are repeating our recommendation to all parties to conduct credible, independent and impartial investigations into incidents entailing civilian casualties in which their forces were involved. It is essential to ensure that those responsible for violations are held accountable.

Señor Presidente, Excelencias,

We have just outlined how violations continue to be perpetrated and civilians continue to suffer in ways that beggar belief. With this in mind, I must echo the words of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, that “we must not lose hope, we must act now. We must show the courage and determination to move beyond rhetorical commitments to peace and to do all that is necessary to reach a negotiated political solution[that] respects Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence.” Only such a solution can establish the foundation for the restauration of the basic human rights that have been so long denied to the Syrian people. Thank you.