Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

Summary Executions of Civilians Summary Executions of Civilians © ITV - Reuters/SANA

The following article is a presentation of the Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (the Commission) on the Syrian Arab Republic, released by the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 1st February 2018.

Submitted pursuant to HRC Resolution n. 34/26 of 5th April 2017, the present Report sets out the Commission’s findings of the investigations conducted from 8 July 2017 to 15 January 2018 in the Syrian Arab Republic.

In March 2011, peaceful demonstrations calling for democratic reforms in the Syrian Arab Republic, were met by a heavy-handed response by the Syrian State security and military forces. Events tragically descended into a non-international armed conflict, characterized by an utter disregard for civilian life.

During this period, ISIL rapidly gained control over a considerable swathe of territory in Syria, with Raqqah as its de facto capital, through exploitation of social fragmentation and communities economic collapse. Consequently, in November 2016, the Syrian Democratic Forces launched “Operation Wrath on the Euphrate”, aimed at capturing the Raqqah Governorate. Their 2017 ground offensive, conducted with extensive air support from the International Coalition, successfully ousted ISIL and took control of Raqqah. Although victorious, the operation was marked by an extremely high cost to civilian lives and serious international crimes committed by all sides.

With the aim of exposing those responsible, seeking criminal accountability and helping victims to achieve justice, the Commission is thus mandated to document and report on systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, committed by all parties to the conflict.

During the period under investigation, the Commission found parties ignored  their international legal obligations, engaging in conduct considered as amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Reported violations include arbitrary arrests, torture in detention, enforced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, denial of fair trial guarantees, summary executions in both known and secret places of detention, use of civilians as human shields, attacks on medical facilities, schools and markets, and indiscriminate and intentional attacks against civilians.

Humanitarian aid has been instrumentalized as a strategy of war, with siege and denial of medical assistance used to compel civilians and other parties to the conflict alike to surrender. Starvation has led to severe acute malnutrition and has had serious impacts on expectant mothers and children. Malnutrition is exacerbated by the routine denial of medical evacuations.

Other serious violations include recruiting children under the age of 13 and forcibly conscripting returnees, practice which, in effect of preventing many families from returning to their homes. Furthermore, as a result of hostilities, at least 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. People have been reported to have no access to basic rights, including the right to adequate housing. Moreover, the massive scale of destruction and the level of contamination from explosive remnants of war throughout the country serve as long-term barriers to addressing the widespread displacement.

In expressing serious concern at ongoing disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law, the Commission urges parties to the conflict to immediately end violations against civilians, cease conducting attacks in densely populated areas, allow unconditional access to all places of detention by independent humanitarian organizations, and ensure that perpetrators of crimes committed are held to account.

Furthermore, the Commission strongly supports the initiative of Member States to establish the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (“IIIM” established by Resolution n. 71/248 of 21st December 2016), as a means of promoting accountability. The Mechanism is mandated to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence relating to the most serious international crimes committed during the Syrian armed conflict. The purpose is to compile case files and facilitate proceedings in both international and national jurisdictions willing to prosecute perpetrators of the atrocious crimes that have been committed during the war in Syria. The Commission welcomes the IIIM and will work closely to assist the Mechanism in achieving its goal.


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