Human Rights Watch’s investigations into human rights violations in Syria, including evidence from hundreds of victims and witnesses, confirm many of the serious human rights violations documented in the reports of the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry of 23 November and 22 February and support the COI’s conclusion that the Syrian government has “manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect the population” and that “its forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State.” 

Our findings include the indiscriminate shelling of residential neighborhoods in the city of Homs, restricted humanitarian access, the unlawful use of lethal force against unarmed protesters, arbitrary arrests in the tens of thousands and widespread torture, including of children, leading in many cases to death in detention. Some opponents of the government, including military defectors, have taken up arms, however such incidents of violence by no means justify the disproportionate and systematic use of lethal force against civilians.

We have also documented evidence suggesting  direct and command responsibility of individual Syrian military commanders and security officials for some of these crimes. Senior military commanders and high-ranking officials, including President Bashar al-Assad and the heads of the intelligence agencies, will bear command responsibility for violations committed by their subordinates to the extent that they knew or should have known of the abuses but failed to take action to stop them.

The ongoing level of abuse and recent escalation in violence underscores the need for the Human Rights Council to take immediate measures. The Human Rights Council should request that the General Assembly and the Security Council support implementation of the COI’s recommendations.  The Council should also extend the term of the COI mandate and urge the GA and SC to push for its access to Syria. 

It should also request access for the future Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic.  Finally, the Human Rights Council should make clear that those responsible for human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Syria will be held accountable, including through encouraging the Security Council to refer this situation to the International Criminal Court.