In its latest report, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria highlighted the military campaign launched late last year in Idlib Governorate by pro-Government forces, to retake the last remaining areas under armed groups’ control.
The Commissioners also maintained that UN-designated terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) indiscriminately shelled densely populated civilian areas, “spreading terror” in Government-held areas.
“It is completely abhorrent that, after more than nine years, civilians continue to be indiscriminately attacked, or even targeted, while going about their daily lives”, said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro.
Bombarded while fleeing
“Children were shelled at school, parents were shelled at the market, patients were shelled at the hospital…entire families were bombarded even while fleeing”, he continued. “What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians.”
Alongside the Russian air force, Syrian Government troops “carried out air and ground attacks which decimated civilian infrastructure, depopulated towns and villages”, killing hundreds of women, men and children, said the commissioners, who report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
International law flouted
Numerous locations protected by international law in the country’s northwest were destroyed in aerial and ground attacks, some involving cluster munitions, according to their report.
It details how from November 2019 to June this year, 52 attacks by all parties included 17 on hospitals and medical facilities; 14 on schools, 12 on homes and nine on markets.
If proven in court, such acts would amount to the war crimes of launching indiscriminate attacks, and deliberate attacks on protected objects, the investigators maintained.
Beginning in the second half of December and mid-February, “widespread and indiscriminate” bombardment carried out by pro-government forces on Ma’arrat al-Nu’man and Ariha in Idlib governorate, as well as Atarib and Darat Azza in western Aleppo, led to mass displacement, according to the report.
Civilians had no choice but to flee, the Commissioners said, adding that this may amount to the crimes against humanity of forcible transfer, murder and other inhumane acts.
Detained, tortured, executed
When people fled, HTS terrorists pillaged their homes, the investigators continued, and “as battles waged, they detained, tortured, and executed civilians expressing dissenting opinions, including journalists”.
Female media workers were doubly victimized, as the terrorist group continued to discriminate against women and girls, including by denying their freedom of movement.
“Women, men and children that we interviewed faced the ghastly choice of being bombarded or fleeing deeper into HTS-controlled areas where there are rampant abuses of human rights and extremely limited humanitarian assistance”, said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “The acts by HTS members amount to war crimes.”
In an appeal for the nearly one million highly vulnerable civilians displaced by the conflict in Idlib governorate who now face added threat of COVID-19, Commissioner Hanny Megally urged all parties to the conflict to cease attacks on civilians and civilian objects.
“Now more than ever, civilians need sustained and unfettered access to humanitarian assistance which must neither be politicised by Member States nor instrumentalised by parties to the conflict. Pandemics know no borders, neither should life-saving aid,” Mr. Megally said, while also urging Member States to pursue accountability for crimes outlined in the report.
The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 14 July to the Human Rights Council during its current 44th session.