Syria Reduced to Ruins: UN Human Rights Panel

In the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, people are waiting desperately to be allowed out because of lack of food and skyrocketing food prices. Photo: WFP / Hussam Al Saleh
In the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, people are waiting desperately to be allowed out because of lack of food and skyrocketing food prices. Photo: WFP / Hussam Al Saleh

As the Syrian conflict is entering its sixth year, civilians are bearing the brunt of intensifying hostilities conducted by an ever-increasing number of warring parties, with aerial bombardments by pro-Government forces leaving “few safe places,” a new United Nations-mandated report has found.

The new report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, a body mandated by the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011, details the catastrophic destruction of civilian infrastructure, including medical care and educational facilities, public spaces, electricity and water installations.

The report, the Commission’s eleventh to the Council, draws on 415 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses in and outside the country, collected between July 2015 and January 2016.

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“As their country is reduced to ruins around them, Syrian men, women and children – often the objects of deliberate attack – are fleeing their homes in an uncertain and often perilous search for safe haven,” said Commission Chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro.

“We are seeing an overwhelming yet consistent intensification of external military involvement in Syria by all parties, with devastating consequences for civilians and various communities,” he stressed, adding that: “With the intensification of airstrikes, there are few safe places for civilians.”

He also emphasized that “relevant Security Council resolutions remain largely unheeded and unimplemented.”

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The report further finds that crimes against humanity continue to be committed by Government forces and by terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL/Da’esh. The commission of war crimes by belligerents is rampant.

Aerial bombardments by pro-Government forces of areas not controlled by the Government have caused hundreds of civilian casualties, mass displacements, and destruction of vital civilian infrastructure, the report notes.

All warring parties, including pro-Government forces, anti-Government armed groups, and the terrorist groups, such as ISIL/Da’esh and Jabhat al-Nusra, carry out indiscriminate attacks by firing shells onto civilian-inhabited areas under control of the opposition, the report says.

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“The damage wrought on Syria by this war cannot be measured solely by loss of life and the physical destruction of the country,” said Commissioner Vitit Muntarbhorn. “The war has also devastated the nation of Syria, ripping asunder the ties that bind its communities and cultures together.”

The report also finds that cultural heritage sites, which are important to Syria and the world, are also being destroyed and damaged through deliberate and incidental attacks.

The report emphasises the need for concerted and sustained international action to find a political solution to end the violence and to stop the rampancy of war crimes and grave violations of human rights.

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“Humanitarian space is shrinking daily, while flagrant violations of human rights and international humanitarian law continue with blatant impunity,” said Commission member Carla Del Ponte. “The call for peace is now more urgent than ever, but momentum must be sustained to ensure an all-inclusive, Syrian-led process.”

Ms. Del Ponte stressed that Security Council resolution 2139 underlined the need to end impunity and reaffirmed the necessity of bringing perpetrators to justice. “Accountability is an essential part of this process,” she said.

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