Human Rights Watch thanks the Commission of Inquiry for highlighting the devastating and unlawful acts committed by parties on both sides of the conflict during the offensive on Eastern Ghouta between February and April 2018. Over the months leading up to the Syrian government retaking Eastern Ghouta, Human Rights Watch documented the Syrian-Russian alliance’s indiscriminate and unlawful attacks on schools, hospitals, ambulances, and other civilian infrastructure in eastern Ghouta, including with the use of prohibited weapons, as well as the Syrian government’s unlawful restriction on essential goods and humanitarian access.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the Commission’s findings that the sieges imposed by the Syrian government have been part of a well-known and unlawful strategy of besieging, starving, and displacing civilians in anti-government-held areas.
The Commission’s findings on indiscriminate attacks launched by anti-government armed groups into government-held territory also reflect how civilians in government-held territory are suffering from armed groups failing to abide by their obligations under international law.
As the Commission’s report shows, it is civilians who pay the price of the brutal tactics employed by parties to the conflict.
But these tactics are far from over. Civilians remain at risk, including in parts of Idlib and Daraa governorates held by anti-government groups where attacks by pro-government forces have reportedly escalated and are expected to rise, and in neighboring government-held territories that anti-government armed groups are striking indiscriminately.
The Human Rights Council should demand that all parties take all feasible precautions to ensure that civilians are protected. The Human Rights Council should demand the Syrian government and its allies facilitate access of independent international organizations to areas re-captured by the government, including Eastern Ghouta.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the Commission’s work toward ensuring accountability for atrocities in Syria. The Human Rights Council should stress the importance of accountability for ongoing abuses in Syria, and urge the UN Security Council to give the International Criminal Court a mandate to address crimes by all parties to the conflict.
We also welcome the important report of the COI on sexual and gender-based violence, and urge the Council to ensure its recommendations are reflected in the resolution under consideration this session.
Finally, we call on the Human Rights Council to urge governments to attend the upcoming meeting of the states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention in The Hague and support ensuring that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons can attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria.