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.