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Commission of Inquiry on Syria: A Bleak Future for This Country?

15 March 2013

During its 22nd session, the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria, which introduced its report on the current situation in this country.

A widespread civil war

Murders, torture, rape, enforced disappearances, unlawful and arbitrary detentions, hostage-takings, indiscriminate air strikes and so on… The list of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria is appalling. For exactly two years now, widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been taking place in Syria.

During the discussion, all speakers thus called for an immediate end to hostilities, highlighting the suffering of the Syrian people, especially children, who are recruited both by rebel and government forces, as well as women, who often endure sexual violence.

The effects of the Syrian war are increasingly felt throughout the whole region. Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the COI on Syria, expressed concern regarding the fact that what has started as an internal revolution could quickly turn into a regional conflict, undermining peace in Syria’s neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. The burden is excessively heavy for those who have opened their borders to accommodate the increasing number of Syrian refugees.

The responsibility of all parties to the conflict

The COI denounced the lack of cooperation from the Syrian authorities who denied access to the Syrian territory to the Commission, preventing them from checking the facts on the ground and therefore limiting the Commission’s ability to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Photo of a session of the Human Rights CouncilIn spite of this, the Commission’s findings indicated that all parties have failed to protect civilian populations and to distinguish themselves from innocent civilians. In this conflict, violations and abuses are not only committed by the Syrian government and its affiliated militias, but anti-government armed groups are responsible as well for many gross human rights violations. However, according to the Commission’s report, abuses committed by rebel groups have not yet reached the intensity of those perpetrated by government forces.

In its response, the Syrian representative denounced a partial and unfair report from the Commission of Inquiry. He stated that the COI has ignored the political situation in the region and that it has based its reports on partial, unilateral and wrongful information received from unreliable sources.

In addition, according to him, other countries in the region claiming to be Syria’s friends, Qatar and Turkey in particular, have been conspiring against the Syrian regime by financing and arming rebel groups and hence supporting terrorism. He stated that the COI has ignored the role played by these countries in Syria.

Diplomacy and accountability as key steps to end the conflict

The COI, supported by many HRC Member States, reckoned that those responsible for grave violations must be held accountable, as “there could be no enduring peace without justice”.

There is an urgent need to tackle the culture of impunity that is currently in place, by referring all perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to both national and international justice. That is why many Member States and NGOs called upon the UN Security Council to take action and to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC could indeed play a significant role in ending the conflict, as it is the most appropriate institution to fight impunity and to give justice to the Syrian people.

The Commission reiterated that the solution to the Syrian conflict is a political one, based on the framework set forth in the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012.
An inclusive diplomatic dialogue between all parties in Syria, under the supervision of the international community, is necessary to achieve a peaceful political transition in the country.

A few countries condemned in advance any interference in the Syrian conflict through an international military intervention as a possible solution to the civil war. They stressed the necessity to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

According to the COI representative, another key step to prevent radicalisation of the conflict is to stop supplying arms to rebel groups, as it is tricky to know which of these groups are good and which ones commit violations.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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