We welcome the continued spotlight from the work of the Syria Commission of Inquiry on the armed conflict in Syria, and thank the Commission for its compelling report. The facts of the situation in Syria are painfully well known at this stage, and devastating impact of the conflict on civilians is undisputed. Over the past four years, the Human Rights Council has played an important role through its establishment and support for the Commission of Inquiry. The Commission’s current report raises the critical question as to what more the Human Rights Council can do in the face of these ongoing grave abuses. Human Rights Watch would highlight two areas that demand the Council’s urgent attention:
Thousands of people, including humanitarian workers, journalists, and human rights defenders, have been arbitrarily detained by Syrian authorities and non-state armed groups. Horrific photographs of those who died in detention have shocked the world. The Commission of Inquiry, the Human Rights Council and the Security Council demanded an end to arbitrary detentions. We do not know the names and locations of thousands of detainees, and international monitors do not have access to most of those detained. There is more this Council can do to address these abuses, including:
· Demand that all parties give access international monitors to all persons in detention, and actively work with Syrian authorities to achieve that result;
· Urge the UN Security Council to follow up on Resolution 2139 by pressing for release of those arbitrarily detained, as well as access to and information about those that are held.
Human Rights Watch believes that the Commission of Inquiry, in line with the key conclusions of its most recent report, can take additional steps to further the quest for justice for the grave abuses being committed in Syria. In particular, the Commission should – through public letters – put high-ranking individuals on all sides on notice that they could be held criminally responsible for ongoing serious crimes by forces under their command.
The Commission should also set out, based on the evidence it holds, the command structure of the armed forces on all sides. Such a record would be extremely helpful for any future attempts to hold commanders responsible. The Commission should finally seek opportunities to highlight victims’ voices, including through public hearings.
Countries that supported efforts to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) should remain committed to seeking accountability. As a next step, the HRC should during its current session recommend that the UN General Assembly adopt a resolution calling on the Security Council to concretely address impunity in Syria.