Attacks, sieges of civilian areas leading to mass casualties, starvation in Syria – UN panel

Desperate crowd awaits relief aid at Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. Photo: UNRWA

5 March 2014 – Widespread attacks and sieges on civilian areas in Syria by pro-Government forces are leading to mass casualties, malnutrition and starvation, says a United Nations-appointed human rights panel, which also cited inaction by the Security Council as an enabler for the escalating violence.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, found that fighting around Yarmouk camp and other areas in Reef Damascus must cease immediately for the supply of humanitarian assistance to reach affected civilians.

For the first time, noted a news release on the report, the Commission also identified specific non-State armed groups that have committed torture as a crime against humanity in Al-Raqqah governorate.

Both pro-Government and non-State armed groups have committed massacres, according to the report, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council on 18 March.

“The absolute impunity that pervades the conflict, now entering its fourth year, is utterly unacceptable,” says Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission.

“The leadership of each party must be held responsible for the violations of its members, and must take action to curb these violations,” added Mr. Pinheiro, who presented the report at a news conference in Geneva today.

The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, has led to well over 100,000 deaths, and more than 680,000 people have been injured. More than 9.3 million people are in need of assistance inside Syria, including at least 6.5 million who are internally displaced. The conflict has also spawned a refugee crisis in which nearly 2.5 million people have are being sheltered in neighbouring countries.

The Commission’s latest report covers investigations conducted from 15 July 2013 to 20 January 2014 and is based on 563 interviews and other collected evidence.

The panel found that hospitals, medical and humanitarian personnel and cultural property were deliberately targeted, in flagrant disregard of their specially protected status under international law.

The Commission’s investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons concluded that sarin gas had been used on multiple occasions. The perpetrator could not be determined to the Commission’s standard of proof.

Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN, is expected to brief the Security Council in New York today on the latest progress in eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

The Commission of Inquiry’s report also stated that the Security Council has failed to take action to end impunity for the crimes being committed in Syria. “Such inaction has provided the space for the proliferation of actors in Syria, each pursuing its own agenda and contributing to the radicalization and escalation of violence.”

The report calls on States that exert influence on the parties in Syria to ensure that these parties comply with the rules of international humanitarian law.


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