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UN Rights Chief Horrified by Violence Against Civilians in Syria


FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet gives a speach during a forum on women of African descent in San Jose, Dec. 3, 2019.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, has expressed horror at the scale of the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria, which has resulted in mass deaths and injuries of civilians and hundreds of thousands of displaced.

Bachelet describes conditions under which civilians are forced to live in Idlib and Aleppo as cruel beyond belief. She condemns the indiscriminate and inhumane attacks against civilians and is calling for an immediate end to hostilities.

Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, says civilians, mostly women and children, are living in terror under scraps of plastic sheeting in freezing temperatures while bombing is going on.

“Entire families, some who have fled from one corner of Syria to the other over the course of the past decade, are tragically finding that bombs are part of their everyday life," he said. "Civilians fleeing the fighting are being squeezed into areas without safe shelter that are shrinking in size by the hour. And still they are bombed, and they simply no longer have anywhere to go.”

The United Nations estimates fighting has forced more than 900,000 civilians to flee their homes since December. That represents the largest displacement of people since the civil war broke out in Syria nearly nine years ago.

The U.N. says 298 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year in Idlib and Aleppo. It blames 93 percent of those deaths on airstrikes by Syria and its Russian ally. During the same period, it says 10 medical and 19 educational facilities have been bombed.

Colville tells VOA he cannot know for sure whether these facilities are being deliberately targeted. He says each case would have to be individually investigated.

“But the sheer quantity of attacks on these hospitals, medical facilities, schools, would suggest they cannot all be accidental… Intentionally directing attacks against hospitals and places containing the sick and the wounded and against medical units using the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblem is a war crime," he said.

Bachelet condemns the continued impunity for violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict. She is calling on the Syrian Government and its allies to set up humanitarian corridors into areas of conflict so civilians can safely leave the war zone.