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United Nations

A/HRC/25/65



General Assembly

Distr.: General

12 February 2014


Original: English
Human Rights Council
Twenty-fifth session
Agenda item 4

Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic*

Summary

In the present report, the commission of inquiry covers the investigations conducted from 15 July 2013 to 20 January 2014. Its findings are based on 563 interviews and other collected evidence.

More than 250,000 people are besieged in the Syrian Arab Republic and subjected to relentless shelling and bombardment. They are denied humanitarian aid, food and such basic necessities as medical care, and must choose between surrender and starvation. Siege warfare is employed in a context of egregious human rights and international humanitarian law violations. The warring parties do not fear being held accountable for their acts.

The scale and geographic distribution of violations perpetrated by government forces and pro-government militia, and non-State armed groups, differ among violations.

Government forces and pro-government militia continue to conduct widespread attacks on civilians, systematically committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance as crimes against humanity. Government forces have committed gross violations of human rights and the war crimes of murder, hostage-taking, torture, rape and sexual violence, recruiting and using children in hostilities and targeting civilians in sniper attacks. Government forces disregarded the special protection accorded to hospitals, medical and humanitarian personnel and cultural property. Aleppo was subjected to a campaign of barrel bombing that targeted entire areas and spread terror among civilians. Government forces used incendiary weapons, causing superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering, in violation of international humanitarian law. Indiscriminate and disproportionate aerial bombardment and shelling caused large-scale arbitrary displacement. Government forces and pro-government militia perpetrated massacres.

Non-State armed groups, named in the report, committed war crimes, including murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking, violations of international humanitarian law tantamount to enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence, recruiting and using children in hostilities, attacking protected objects and forcibly displacing civilians. Medical and religious personnel and journalists were targeted. Armed groups besieged and indiscriminately shelled civilian neighbourhoods, in some instances spreading terror among civilians through the use of car bombings in civilian areas. In Al-Raqqah, the widespread detention of civilians and their systematic torture by identified armed groups amounted to a crime against humanity. Non-State armed groups perpetrated massacres.

Chemical weapons, specifically sarin, were found to have been used in multiple incidents during the conflict. In no incident was the commission’s evidentiary threshold met with respect to the perpetrator.

States that exert influence on the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic must act to ensure that these parties comply with the rules of international humanitarian law. The Security Council bears responsibility for allowing the warring parties to violate these rules with impunity.














Contents


Paragraphs Page

I. Introduction 1 – 6 4

A. Challenges 2 – 3 4

B. Methodology 4 – 6 4

II. Conflict dynamics 7 – 19 4


  1. Government forces and pro-government militia 11 – 13 5

  2. Non-State armed groups 14 – 19 5

III. Violations in the treatment of civilians and hors de combat fighters 20 – 84 7

A. Massacres and other unlawful killing 20 – 33 7

B. Arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention 34 – 40 8

C. Hostage-taking 41 – 46 9

D. Enforced disappearance 47 – 50 10

E Torture and ill-treatment 51 – 61 10

F. Sexual and gender-based violence 62 – 71 11

G. Violations of children’s rights 72 – 84 13

IV. Violations concerning the conduct of hostilities 85 – 150 14

A. Unlawful attacks 85 – 106 14

B. Specifically protected persons and objects 107 – 126 16

C. Use of illegal weapons 127 – 131 19

D. Sieges and economic, social and cultural rights 132 – 143 19

E. Arbitrary and forcible displacement 144 – 150 22

V. Conclusions and recommendations 151 – 163 23

A. Conclusions 151 – 155 23



  1. Recommendations 156 – 163 24

Annexes

I. Correspondence with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic 26

II. Political and humanitarian context 30

III. Specific mandate on massacres 33

IV. Without a trace: enforced disappearances in Syria 36

V. Government detention centres 46

VI. Use of barrel bombs 50

VII. Assaults on medical care 55

VIII. Map of the Syrian Arab Republic 63

I. Introduction

1. In the present report, submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 22/24, the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic presents its findings based on investigations conducted from 15 July 2013 to 20 January 2014.1 The report should be read in conjunction with previous reports of the commission.2



A. Challenges

2. The commission’s investigations remain curtailed by the denial of access to the Syrian Arab Republic.

3. The correspondence between the Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic and the commission is annexed to the present report (see annex I).

B. Methodology

4. The methodology employed by the commission was based on standard practices of commissions of inquiry and human rights investigations. The commission relied primarily on first-hand accounts.

5. The information contained in the present report is based on 563 interviews conducted in the region and from Geneva. Starting in September 2011, a total of 2,648 interviews were conducted by the commission. Photographs, video recordings, satellite imagery and medical records were collected and analysed. Reports from Governments and non-governmental sources, academic analyses and United Nations reports formed part of the investigation.

6. The standard of proof is met when the commission has reasonable grounds to believe that incidents occurred as described.



II. Conflict dynamics

7. The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has grown in intensity and scope, as warring parties renewed efforts to strengthen their negotiation positions before the Geneva II conference. Despite intermittent tactical gains by the Government, fighting reached a stalemate, costing the country and the parties’ significant human and material losses. Particularly fierce around major cities and along main lines of communication, hostilities involved more brutal tactics and means. The Government relied extensively on the superior firepower of its air force and artillery, while non-State armed groups increasingly resorted to methods of asymmetric warfare, such as suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices.

8. The war has become deeply fragmented and localized, with the emergence of multiple frontlines involving different parties with shifting priorities. Primarily aimed at limited short-term agendas, these confrontations have been fuelled mostly by local operational and socioeconomic particularities rather than by the broader context of the conflict. The hostilities in north-eastern governorates saw Kurdish forces fighting radical Islamic armed groups in a distinct subconflict, with its own front lines and internal military dynamics. In many cases, communities in central governorates brokered localized ceasefires.

9. External factors have increasingly driven the course of the conflict. While pushing for a political solution, international stakeholders continued to support the belligerents financially and logistically to influence the outcome of the conflict in line with their respective interests. Private donors and intermediaries from the region played an instrumental role in supporting specific armed groups or operation rooms with fundraising campaigns conducted through social media. Meanwhile, thousands of foreign fighters joined the hostilities, either officially in support of the Government or clandestinely in armed groups, fuelling the sectarian dimension of the conflict with their composition and narratives.

10. Sectarian rifts became more pronounced and expanded beyond the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic, threatening security and stability in neighbouring countries. The danger of further destabilization in the region is real and of serious concern.

A. Government forces and pro-government militia

11. Government forces regained several strategic areas through the use of heavy firepower, the systematic engagement of irregular forces and greater involvement of foreign forces. While maintaining most key urban centres and lines of communication under their control, they threatened armed opposition strongholds in Damascus and Aleppo. They have, however, failed to re-establish effective control of countryside previously lost to armed groups.

12. The ranks of pro-government irregular forces, both paramilitary and militia groups, and their use in direct combat operations grew. Besides the National Defence Forces, the Baath party battalions, popular committees and shabbiha groups continued to operate in their neighbourhoods while increasingly engaged in support of the military on a regular basis. The Government also benefited from the support of foreign combat units, including Hizbullah and Iraqi militia, particularly in critical operations.

13. As part of their strategy aimed at weakening the insurgents and breaking the will of their popular base, government forces besieged several localities, a strategy reinforced by prolonged shelling campaigns. Partial sieges aimed at expelling armed groups turned into tight blockades that prevented the delivery of basic supplies, including food and medicine, as part of a “starvation until submission” campaign.



B. Non-State armed groups

14. As the conflict intensified, non-State armed groups, encompassing all non-government aligned armed groups, engaged in sequential realignments and infighting. Fragmentation thwarted initiatives to bring them under a unified command with a cohesive structure and a clear strategy. Persisting ideological, political and social differences resulted in diverse and sometimes antagonistic positions.

15. Connectivity among armed groups improved across the country, leading to the establishment of permanent or temporary coordination and integration mechanisms, including coalitions and operation rooms. These realignments were based on common tactical objectives, shared ideologies, pressure from external backers or simply operational necessity. In this context, local Islamic coalitions, such as the Islamic Front, have marginalized the non-ideological and moderate groups, partly owing to the selective financial support provided by certain Governments and their nationals.

16. To describe this complex landscape, non-State armed groups can be classified into four broad, non-exclusive umbrellas:



  • Syrian moderate nationalists organised in a conglomeration of armed groups affiliated to the internationally backed Supreme Military Council, fighting the Government and calling for the formation of a democratic and pluralistic State. This also includes moderate Islamic groups and armed groups with local agendas limited to their communities’ aspirations.

  • Syrian Islamic armed groups bringing together fighters aimed at the ousting of the Government and militating for the institution of sharia law as the framework of an Islamic State in the country.; This category encompasses fighters from a wide Islamic ideological spectrum.

  • Radical Jihadist groups, including the two major Al-Qaieda affiliates, Jabhat Al-Nusra, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), recruited from Salafi jihadist fighters and with the substantial presence and influence of foreign fighters. A rift has grown between the two groups, as the former remained engaged alongside other rebel groups in fighting government forces, while ISIS prioritized the consolidation of its territorial control against all encroachments.

  • Kurdish armed groups, mainly the Popular Protection Units (YPG), who have taken charge of protecting and governing territory, benefiting from a unified command, disciplined members and popular support. They reinforced their control of Kurdish regions after engaging in combat against other armed groups, in particular Al-Qaida affiliates in Aleppo, Ar Raqqah and Al Hasakah governorates.

17. The overlap in ideological orientation and political aspirations, as well as continuous individual and collective migration among the first three groups, makes it difficult to draw linear or fixed lines of separation among these categories. Securing logistical resources, in particular funding, has become the most important driving factor of structural and operational dynamics among rebel groups. In many cases, joining an armed group or a coalition is more a matter of survival than genuine ideological engagement.

18. In this intricate context, internal strife among rebel groups from all categories has escalated over the control of territories and resources, including roads, border crossings, smuggling routes and natural resources. Recently, long-brewing tensions between ISIS and other rebel groups, including the Islamic Front, culminated in violent hostilities extending across northern and northeastern governorates.

19. A description of the current political and humanitarian context is annexed to the present report (see annex II).

III. Violations in the treatment of civilians and hors de combat fighters

A. Massacres and other unlawful killing3

1. Government forces and pro-government militia

20. Government forces continue to unlawfully kill those perceived as potential enemies, including civilians and hors de combat fighters, in violation of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. In Damascus countryside, Government forces tightened sieges on opposition-controlled areas, adopting increasingly brutal tactics against anyone perceived as a threat. Syrian forces outside Muadamiyah and Daraya killed persons passing through checkpoints. Killings were documented at the 4th Division checkpoint near Mezzeh Airport, as well as at Summariah and Sahnaya checkpoints.

21. Bedouins, particularly the Jamlan, Harb, Abadah and Na’im tribes, were targeted because of their perceived affiliation with the armed opposition. On 29 July 2013, three Bedouin men were arrested and executed by government forces near Bley, a military airport in southern Damascus. Syrian army soldiers shot two unarmed Bedouin men while patrolling Al-Bitariyah on 7 August. In early September, three Bedouin men were shot at close range at a checkpoint between eastern Ghouta and Damascus International Airport.

22. Government forces targeted sick and wounded persons, particularly men seeking medical treatment, regarding their wounds as indicative of participation in hostilities. In mid-September, persons receiving treatment for non-life-threatening injuries in Mowasat Hospital were found dead after soldiers entered their operating rooms. One male relative who witnessed the soldiers was asked for identification and shot upon discovery of his family ties to the victims. On 24 October, Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters were escorting a convoy of injured civilians and fighters out of Al-Nashabeyah when they were ambushed. Soldiers from the 22nd Brigade approached and killed the wounded at close range.

23. During the campaign to recapture Homs governorate, government forces perpetrated unlawful killings. In mid-July, internally displaced persons in eastern Homs were routinely apprehended in Al-Furqlus and killed by soldiers of the 18th Division. On 21 July, government forces, supported by shabbiha, entered Sukhnah, eastern Homs, and conducted house raids, during which they shot eight civilians. In Houlah, during Ramadan, government forces conducted house searches and arrests. Bodies of people arrested during these raids were later returned to their relatives.

24. Government forces continue to control the majority of Hama governorate. On 7 August, government forces, supported by National Defence Forces, killed a man at the checkpoint near Al-Jadeedah. In late September, shabbiha raided a house in Jalmeh, killing a defector.

2. Non-State armed groups

1. Killings that amount to the war crime of murder
25. Two 15-year-old boys, abducted near Nubul (Aleppo) on 26 June were executed on 11 August 2013 in Mayer, when demands of the ISIS Emir in Tal Rifaat and Azaz were not met. Their corpses were mutilated, almost beyond recognition. A video of the execution was posted on the Internet. In September, ISIS attacked the Northern Storm Brigade headquarters and prison in Jebel Barsaya, executing one prisoner.

26. Alawite farmers in Al-Ghab Valley (Hama) are routinely abducted and killed by armed groups operating from surrounding Sunni villages. Since May 2013, several farmers have been shot while cultivating their fields.

27. Non-State armed groups executed captured soldiers. After armed group fighters took control of a government military checkpoint located 2 kilometres from Maaloula (Damascus countryside) on 4 September, they captured and executed soldiers stationed there. On 7 September, fighters raided a house on Mar Sarkis Street. Fighters separated the women and elderly, then took three men outside and shot them.

28. Since July, Jabhat Al-Nusra, at times in coordination with other armed groups, carried out a series of killings of Kurdish civilians in Al Youssoufiyah, Qamishli and Al-Asadia (Al-Hasakah). During a raid by ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Islamic Front and FSA battalions, fighters killed a Kurdish Yazidi man in Al-Asadia who refused to convert to Islam.



2. Killings amounting to the war crime of execution without due process

29. Certain armed groups, in establishing control over areas in north-eastern Syria, conducted public extrajudicial executions in violation of fair trial guarantees, violating common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. In late August, the Northern Storm Brigade executed an unidentified man in the public square of Azaz (Aleppo).

30. The FSA-affiliated Gathering of Ahrar Nawa Battalions entered Nawa (Dara’a) in mid-September and captured three government soldiers. They were interrogated to determine whether they had been involved in “bloodshed”, then summarily executed.

31. During an attack on a government checkpoint in Jisr Al Shughur (Idlib) on 7 October, the FSA Al Sai’qa Brigade captured one soldier. The fighters sought advice on sharia law. Their contact instructed them to execute the soldier, stating that “those that surrender after being captured will be killed”.

32. In October, Ahrar Al-Sham captured an alleged car bomber in Binnish (Idlib). The man was interrogated and beaten to extort a confession, then summarily executed following a trial conducted by “defector judges”.

33. Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS carried out public executions in Tal Abyad (Ar Raqqah) in September. Armed groups conducted public executions to assert their presence after taking control of an area and to instil fear among the population.



B. Arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention

1. Government forces and pro-government militia

34. Government forces conducted arbitrary arrests during or immediately following ground operations. From July to September 2013, government forces conducted a campaign of arrests throughout Homs in Al-Qaryatayn, Houlah, Karm Al-Zeytun and Dewayer, as well as in Sinjar (Idlib) in July, Al-Jalmeh (Hama) in November, and Beit Jin (Damascus countryside) and Kafr Shams (Dara’a) in September. Men and adolescent boys were targeted, although children, women and elderly persons were also detained.

35. Families of suspected members of armed groups, including deceased fighters, were detained with the purpose of obtaining information or as retribution. This has instilled fear among entire communities. Consequently, families from Muadamiyah (Damascus countryside) no longer publish death notices.

36. Residents of opposition-controlled areas were arrested and detained when passing through checkpoints. In July, a woman was arrested at a Damascus checkpoint because her identity card indicated her former residence as Dara’a. Such practices have curtailed the freedom of movement of civilians, in particular men and boys over 12 years.

37. Doctors and rescue workers were detained on the grounds that they assisted “terrorists” in Hama and Damascus. Human rights defenders and political activists were targeted for arrest and detained in Damascus, limiting their freedom of expression and opinion.

38. Persons were detained without a legal basis, their detention was not justified on permissible grounds and they were not accorded their right to a review of the grounds and legality of their detention. Government forces conducted arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention, in violation of international human rights law.



2. Non-State armed groups

39. Non-State armed groups arbitrarily deprived persons of their liberty, violating their obligations under international humanitarian law. Armed groups did not afford detainees an initial and periodic review of the detention by an independent entity.

40. In late July 2013, ISIS fighters arrested Kurdish civilians in Tal Abyad (Ar Raqqah) on the basis of their ethnicity. In August, a doctor was apprehended by a FSA brigade in Aleppo city because he had provided medical aid to government soldiers. In Aleppo governorate, people were arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained by Jabhat Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham and ISIS. Summary judgements passed by mechanisms not fulfilling the minimum standards for due process guarantees sometimes formed the basis for imprisonment.

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