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

Human Rights Council Forty-second session 9–27 September 2019 Agenda item 4
Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has now entered its eighth year, as civilians countrywide continue to withstand the brunt of ongoing hostilities. Syrian women, men and children in the east of the country, for example, witnessed large-scale operations by the international coalition led by the United States of America, and the Syrian Democratic Forces, which led to near complete destruction of towns and villages in and around Hajin and Baghuz (Dayr al-Zawr). Waves of displacements from these areas ensued, in which tens of thousands of fleeing civilians were taken to makeshift settlements, including Al-Hol camp, straining the already severely overstretched humanitarian resources.

Meanwhile, beginning in February, aerial and ground offensives by pro-government forces to oust Levant Liberation Organization (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) terrorists and affiliated armed groups from Idlib, northern Hama, Ladhiqiyah and western Aleppo escalated dramatically, destroying infrastructure essential to the survival of the civilian population, including hospitals, markets, educational facilities and agricultural resources, and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.

In areas controlled by the Government, civilians, including recent returnees, were arbitrarily arrested and detained. Service provision in Dar‘a and Duma, eastern Ghutah (Rif Dimashq) is, moreover, ineffective, depriving hundreds of thousands of civilians of adequate access to water, electricity and education.

In order to mitigate the most urgent protection gaps, the Commission proposes a series of pragmatic recommendations to Member States and, in particular, to those that provide support to the warring parties. The international community as a whole bears a shared responsibility for the myriad crimes committed against millions of Syrian women, men and children. (…) Read More…

Impact of the ongoing conflict
A. Afrin (Aleppo)

59.Throughout Afrin, the dire security situation continued to foster an environment in which human rights abuses were committed, including abductions and kidnappings, often for a combination of economic, political and security reasons. The victims of abductions by armed groups and/or criminal gangs were often of Kurdish origin, as well as civilians perceived as being prosperous, including doctors, businesspersons and merchants. Victims regularly disappeared when travelling, primarily at checkpoints, or were abducted from their homes at night. For example, the Commission documented a case in which, on 13 May, two men and a child with intellectual disabilities had been kidnapped by an armed group when travelling from Afrin to I‘zaz. One of those abducted was reportedly found dead a few days later displaying signs of torture, while the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $10,000 for the remaining abductees. Accounts received by the Commission indicated that the second man was discovered dead 40 days after the incident, also with visible signs of torture; thereafter, the remains of the child were found.

60.Individuals, including activists openly critical of the armed groups and those perceived to be supporters of the former administration, were regularly arrested, detained, tortured and extorted. For example, one interviewee described that, after his arrest by an armed group in January, he had suffered severe beatings and burns while in detention, until the sum of $600 had been paid for his release. In another case in February, one journalist was arrested by an armed group in Afrin, and was accused of sharing information with foreign news agencies. He was severely beaten during his interrogation.

61.Residents stated to the Commission that recent waves of arrests were perceived by the local population as designed primarily to generate financial income for armed groups. In this regard, the Commission received reports that young men arrested on suspicion of being affiliated with Kurdish structures were forced to pay a fine of $400 in order to be released.

62.Displaced civilians returning to Afrin have been frequently barred from accessing their property if it had been appropriated by members of armed groups and their families. Others were required to pay up to several thousand dollars to have their goods and vehicles returned to them after they had been stolen (see also A/HRC/39/65, para. 29). Reports received by the Commission indicate that farmers were forced to pay “taxes” in order to cultivate their lands. Olive farmers were similarly required to cede a certain percentage of their harvest as “taxes” to armed groups. Furthermore, the Commission received several reports regarding the pillaging of historical and archaeological sites by armed groups, including Tel Jenderes. These reports are under investigation.

63.Reports received by the Commission also indicated that, particularly in areas under the control of armed factions following extremist ideologies, severe restrictions on women’s rights had been imposed in recent months. Violations include the imposition of strict dress codes for women and girls and limitations on freedom of movement. At the same time, women and girls were harassed by armed group members, in particular when attempting to pass checkpoints.

64.Victims who lodged complaints to local councils, the military police and Turkish officials consistently stated that the parties in control remained either unwilling or unable to provide effective redress. The Commission received no indication that the Turkish authorities were either capable of or willing to control the misconduct of armed groups.

65.The Commission continued to receive reports alleging that the Turkish authorities were controlling, coordinating and financing administrative, judicial and executive structures. Residents pointed out that Syrian judges and lawyers were appointed by, or in coordination with, the Turkish authorities, and that civilian police officers were also being selected and trained by them (A/HRC/40/70, para. 70). Reportedly, officials of Kurdish origin who had previously worked in institutions had frequently been replaced by persons of Arab descent. Even so, interviewees continued to describe administrative as well as executive structures as largely incapable of addressing grievances spawned by the unlawful conduct of dozens of armed groups.
66.The Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of the armed groups in Afrin continued to commit the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture (see paras. 59–61 above) and pillage (see para. 62 above).

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