GENEVA - The three-member U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria is accusing pro-government Syrian forces and terrorist groups of widespread human rights violations and war crimes in their battle to control Idlib in northwest Syria. The report will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council later this month.
Syrian and Russian forces launched a military offensive late last year to re-take Idlib province and surrounding areas, the last remaining territory under the control of armed groups in Syria.
In its report, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry describes the suffering endured by Syrian children, women and men during the military campaign as unfathomable. The report documents 52 attacks by all parties to the conflict between November and June.
Commissioner Hanny Megally says hospitals and medical facilities, schools, marketplaces and residential homes have been attacked. He says civilians have been killed and injured, infrastructure damaged and destroyed. He speaks by video link from New York.
“Within that we found that war crimes were committed, were likely to have been committed by both the Syrian air force and by the Russian air force," he said. "We document two incidents in the report, where we think it was Russian airplanes that conducted those attacks. And, we explain why we think it was the Russians, rather than the Syrians.”
Megally says the report lists other types of war crimes committed by both pro-government forces and by the armed groups and terrorist organizations. He says they include indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations, the use of cluster munitions, and deliberate attacks on protected objects.
“We have come to the conclusion that the attacks by the pro-government forces were so systematic and designed to force the population to move and the forcible transfer of populations is a crime against humanity. So, we think that again may have happened. And, both by pro-government forces and by armed groups and terrorist organizations, we have seen pillaging and looting happening, which again are war crimes,” he said.
U.N. investigators report more than one million people, 80 % of them women and children, are displaced and living under dire conditions near the Turkish border. They say they face an uncertain, grim future, further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
They say those Syrian civilians need sustained and unfettered life-saving humanitarian aid, as well as assistance in tackling the looming threat of the pandemic.
There has been no official response to the report from the Syrian government.