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 important update.
Human Rights Watch would like to highlight two areas of concern:
Continued use of chemical weapons
New evidence supports the conclusion that Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions in recent months. These attacks are part of a broader pattern of Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons. The widespread and systematic nature of the attacks, and evidence that some have been directed against the civilian population, mean the attacks could amount to crimes against humanity. The Council and UN member states should:
- Demand that the Syrian government and other parties to the conflict fully cooperate with investigators, including by providing requested information;
- Support action, including at the Security Council, to impose travel bans and asset freezes on those in the Syrian government and military chain of command responsible for chemical attacks that UN and OPCW investigations have confirmed, and action at the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government;
- Support accountability efforts, including referral of the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court (ICC);
- Welcome the establishment of the Syria accountability mechanism established by the UN General Assembly in December 2016, and urge UN member states to support and adequately fund the mechanism.
Civilian protection during anti-ISIS operations
The United States-led coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and other local armed groups should make protecting civilians and respect for human rights a priority in the offensive to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).
The Council should:
- Demand that coalition members take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects during military operations;
- Demand that local armed forces allow civilians to flee areas of fighting for safety and to get aid and that they enjoy freedom of movement;
- Encourage local military and civilian authorities to raise awareness about the threat of improvised mines and develop capacity to rapidly clear mines and remnants of war to facilitate the return of the civilian population.