World is failing Syria’s civilians during civil war

New report highlights negligence and litany of abuse by all factions resulting in extreme suffering

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The independent UN Syria Commission of Inquiry condemned international negligence of Syria's civil war and "opportunistic" foreign military support.
Nearly 10 years since the outbreak of the brutal conflict, the commission detailed the litany of human rights abuse and war crimes committed by all sides, often for short-term political gains or under dubious claims of fighting terrorism.

It reports on the horrific conditions under which civilians live and the threat they face from the Syrian government and its allies, rebel groups and proscribed terrorist organisations. Warring factions have used weapons that minimised the risk to their fighters but not civilians, the commission said.

The report reiterated the need for an immediate and permanent ceasefire that would lead to Syrian-led negotiations backed by the UN Security Council, enforced by key member states and heeded by the government and armed groups.

“Parties to this conflict have benefited from the selective intervention and woeful negligence of the international community that has left no Syrian family unscathed,” commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro said.

“The children, women and men of Syria have paid the price as a brutal authoritarian government unleashed overwhelming violence to quell dissent. Opportunistic foreign funding, arms and other support to the warring parties poured fuel on this fire that the world has been content to watch burn.

“It is far past time to finally put Syrians first – and expend every effort to support a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict and to help place Syria on a path towards a stable, prosperous and just future for all her people,” he said.

The report details the plight of the millions of people displaced and preyed upon by armed groups.

“With a medical sector vastly diminished by deliberate targeting, incidental damage and the flight of medical workers, the Covid-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc on medical systems in many high-income countries is overwhelming remaining medical staff and other frontline workers in Syria,” commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd said.

The commission said that there had been little chance of accountability for the abuse committed – from the repression and bombing of civilians, use of chemical weapons, arbitrary detention and more.

Justice is particularly hard to establish in areas controlled by the Syria government despite suggestions that the regime would investigate allegations of criminality.

“To date the commission has not received any information concerning the investigation, prosecution, conviction or acquittal of any Syrian military, security forces or government personnel for any criminal violations of international human rights or humanitarian law by the government,” the report said.

There is limited evidence of non-state armed groups holding their forces to account or of prosecutions for war crimes committed by countries involved in the conflict, and the commission called for innovative solutions to hold perpetrators to account.

“The time is long overdue for further initiatives in additional areas of justice and recent history has shown that inaction at the UN Security Council need not prevent action on other fronts,” commissioner Hanny Megally said.

“Victims’ demands for justice and accountability are a central component of any durable peace.

“The restorative justice measures that Syrians have called for time and again – on the missing, the disappeared, the arbitrarily detained, on support to families, the demobilisation of child fighters, the provision of holistic psychosocial support, in particular for children and victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and the preservation and restoration of vital civil documentation, among other issues – cannot be left till after the conflict ends,” he said.