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No denying violations

Sep 10,2017 - Last updated at Sep 10,2017

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a few days ago a report on the situation in the country, concluding that despite some progress in reducing violence in the de-escalation areas, the fighting parties continue to perpetrate crimes against civilians in blatant violation of international law.

Such violence includes forced displacement, deliberate attacks against civilians, and the use of chemical weapons.

Terrorist groups — cited in the report are Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham and Daesh — have been using brutal tactics against civilians; terrorist and other armed groups targeted religious minorities through car and suicide bombings, the use of snipers and hostage taking, including in areas controlled by the Syrian government; and government forces continued to deliberately target civilians, including by using chemical weapons on civilians in opposition-held areas.

Syrian warplanes dropped sarin on Khan Sheikhoun, in the province of Idlib, earlier this year, killing over 80 people, most of them women and children. 

Thus, despite systematic denials by the Syrian regime, constantly corroborated by Moscow, the UN investigators’ report concludes differently, mentioning the fact that the aerial campaign also targeted medical facilities throughout the area, which seriously weakened their ability to provide assistance to victims of the sarin attack and led to an increase in the number of civilian casualties, and that in Idlib, Hama and eastern Ghouta, Syrian forces used weaponised chlorine, all attacks that constitute a clear violation of international humanitarian law and the Convention on Chemical Weapons, which Syria ratified in 2013 following a previous sarin attack.

Before the release of the UN commission’s latest report, the fact-finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had confirmed the use of chemical weapons on Khan Sheikhoun, but stopped short of identifying the culprit, most likely under pressure from Russia.

The most recent UN report concluded that “government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas”.

The UN commission, mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law in Syria since March 2011, was able to document no less than 33 chemical attacks there to date, 27 of which identified as having been committed by Damascus. The identity of the sides responsible for the remaining six remained in doubt.

The first major chemical weapon attack committed by Damascus was in March 2013 on the Syrian town of Khan Al Assal, in the province of Aleppo. That attack was followed by an even more devastating chemical attack in August 2013 by a Syrian warplane on the Ghouta suburb of Damascus, which caused the death of no less than 1,000. 

The report also found that US forces failed to take all possible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objectives when attacking alleged terrorists and destroyed part of a mosque complex in Al Jinah, Aleppo, in March, in violation of international humanitarian law.

In the chaos prevailing in Syria, where factions, organisations and superpowers vie for authority, the sad, often overlooked, fact is that innocent civilians pay the price.

But as the head of the UN commission, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, said, “the parties to this horrific conflict must fundamentally realign their tactics with basic notions of humanity, and the international community must reinvigorate its commitment to meaningful justice and accountability for all perpetrators of crimes, if we are to see a significant shift away from Machiavellian disregard for the interests of the Syrian people and the progress towards alleviating the suffering of civilians”.


Once peace settles over this war-torn country, there must be accountability for all the atrocities perpetrated there. Lessons will have to be learned from Syria, by those directly involved in the conflict there and by the world at large.

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