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Syria: Urgent measures needed to avoid civilian casualties

Item 4 Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Human Rights Watch supports the findings of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. An investigation by Human Rights Watch has established that the Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions, including in Khan Sheikhoun where at least 92 people have died. HRW considers this a widespread and systematic policy by the Syrian government, which may amount to a crime against humanity.

Human Rights Watch echoes the commission’s concern regarding the dangers posed to civilians because of the U.S. Coalition offensive on Raqqa. Human Rights Watch has documented a disproportionate number of civilian casualties by U.S. coalition airstrikes on Raqqa, and nearby towns, including Tabqa and Mansourah. Some of the strikes resulted in significant destruction of civilian infrastructure, and displaced many civilians, placing their lives at risk in more ways than one.

Human Rights Watch condemns any use of starvation as a method of warfare, and the use of local reconciliation agreements to forcibly displace civilians, in contravention of international humanitarian law.  Forcible disappearances, torture in detention and extrajudicial killings by both Syrian government forces and other armed groups continue with little attention from the international community.

The HRC should call on the UN Security Council to discuss the findings of the Commission and pursue measures to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons. We recommend that the Commission engage the U.S. led coalition to more diligently check whether civilians are present when conducting attacks, and take all feasible precautions to minimize loss of civilian life. The Human Rights Council should demand that Syrian authorities and non-state armed groups allow access for independent monitors to all detention facilities, and disclose the fate of detainees in their custody. Finally, the Commission and the HRC should support the speedy realization of the IIIM, including by calling on the UNGA to institutionalize the funding required for its effective deployment.  

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