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No one's hands are clean in the Syrian conflict according to the UN Special Commission on Syria

In its latest report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria assures that all parties to the conflict are involved in abuses and serious violations of their rights. And details them.
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One of the proofs of the destruction of houses belonging to civilians contained in the report (photo: UNITAR/UNOSAT)
One of the proofs of the destruction of houses belonging to civilians contained in the report (photo: UNITAR/UNOSAT)
SYRIA / TURKEY. In its latest report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria assures that "Syrians continue to be killed, to suffer serious hardship and serious violations of their rights, despite a reduction in the scale of hostilities since the ceasefire of 5 March". The twenty-five-page document, released on Tuesday 15 September 2020, also highlights "an increase in targeted abuses such as killings, sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, and looting or appropriation of private property, with sectarian overtones. The suffering of civilians is a constant and personal feature of this crisis".

Attached to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), this commission had already denounced, in July 2020, war crimes in Idlib and its surroundings. It is continuing its examination of the situation throughout the country by documenting numerous cases of violations linked to detention by government forces, the Syrian National Army (SNA), the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the jihadists of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and other parties to the conflict. "All parties in Syria are detaining civilians without any evidence or due process. All persons arbitrarily deprived of their liberty must be released. The international community can and must do more, especially with regard to the camps in the north-east where they can have an immediate impact if they have the political will to act," said Commissioner Hanny Megally.

Turkey also implicated in the abuses

The Commission cites 13 accounts of torture of persons detained by the Syrian authorities at the Department of Criminal Security in Aleppo, at various branches of the Air Force Intelligence Directorate in Abasin, Harasta and Mazzah, at headquarters in Damascus, at the branch of the police in Qaboun and in other places, some of whom were allegedly subjected to ill-treatment over long periods of time, even beyond seven years. "Detainees were beaten with sticks and ropes, tied to tyres, hung from ceilings and walls and whipped. One detainee reported being beaten on his genitals. Interviewees also said they had witnessed sexual assaults on women prisoners by staff (...) while men were allegedly sexually abused in Saydnaya prison," the UN said.

According to the report, between January and April 2020, several civilians residing in the Aleppo region were subjected to continuous bombings and car bombs that killed and injured dozens of residents and damaged civilian infrastructure, including markets and homes.

Also in the Afrin region, the commission proves by multiple testimonies, with great detail, that several houses belonging to Kurds were appropriated "in a coordinated manner by members of the Syrian National Army", supported by Turkey, after having dislodged them. Other Kurds have had to pay taxes on their agricultural crops or a fixed amount of rent in order to enjoy the right to stay in their homes. One of them was offered for sale by a high-ranking officer in the village of Tel al-Arisha his own household goods stored in a warehouse for looted goods. A Kurdish house was even requisitioned to be converted into an institute of Koranic studies run by a Turkish NGO (Human Rights Foundation), others are used by the Turkish armed forces for military purposes.

Some imprisoned Kurds were handed over by the Syrian National Army to Turkey. "Illegal expulsion of protected persons can constitute a war crime," the report states. "The Commission continues to investigate the precise extent to which various brigades of the Syrian National Army and the Turkish forces have formed a common command and control hierarchy and notes that, should it become apparent that members of armed groups are acting under the effective command and control of the Turkish forces, violations committed by these actors could lead to the criminal responsibility of those commanders who had or should have had knowledge of the crimes, or who failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or repress their commission," the report continues.

SDSs hold children

The Syrian Democratic Forces are also singled out. "Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and related entities may have committed the war crime of cruel treatment and ill-treatment of persons deprived of liberty in military intelligence facilities. The Commission also has reasonable grounds to believe that by detaining tens of thousands of individuals in Hawl camp and its annex, the majority of whom are children, for eighteen months without any legal recourse, the Syrian Democratic Forces detained these individuals in inhumane conditions".

As for the members of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, they are accused of having "detained, tortured and executed civilians who opposed their oppressive regime" in the governorates of Aleppo and Idlib. Some have even been imprisoned for refusing to pay taxes and for land disputes. The report found that members of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham "committed the crimes of war, cruel treatment and torture" and "established makeshift courts whose procedures fall far short of fair trial standards.

Call for a lasting national ceasefire

"The dramatic increase in the number of food-insecure people in Syria in the first half of 2020 is deeply worrying. All obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian aid must be removed", also stresses Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd.

Concluding its report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria calls on all belligerents for a lasting national ceasefire and calls for the immediate and massive release of prisoners in all facilities to save their lives. "While the Commission has always insisted on these releases because of the abhorrent and inhumane conditions of detention, the urgency is all the greater today as overcrowded prisons are a breeding ground for Covid-19. The Commission also urges the government to take urgent and comprehensive measures to reveal the fate of detained or missing persons," the text continues.

"I urge all parties to the conflict to take these recommendations into account, particularly with regard to achieving lasting peace. For nearly a decade, all calls for the protection of women, men, boys and girls have been ignored. There are no clean hands in this conflict, but the status quo cannot be allowed to continue," says Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the commission of enquiry.

The report will be presented to the Human Rights Council on 25 September 2020.
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Frédéric Dubessy

Tuesday, September 15th 2020

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