Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado
Date: 21 May 2019
The UN Human Rights Office is extremely worried about the military escalation in northwestern Syria, despite the announcement of a recent 72-hour ceasefire. There has been some reduction in violence, but airstrikes and ground-based attacks continue to take place in various parts of Idlib and Hama governorates. The situation remains volatile and the possibility of renewed clashes is high, worsening the prospects for some 3 million civilians caught in the crossfire.
Both pro-Government forces and non-State armed groups fighting in northern Syria appear to have failed to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law, resulting in a high number of civilian casualties and injuries and significant damage to civilian objects, according to information recorded by the UN Human Rights Office.
Military objects have been placed in close proximity to civilians and civilian objects, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries, and causing significant damage to civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, mosques, schools and markets.
Non-State armed groups have launched ground-based attacks on areas under the control of Government forces and hit residential neighbourhoods and settlements for displaced people in Hama governorate and Aleppo city.
From 8 to 16 May, multiple attacks by pro-Government forces were registered, resulting in at least 56 civilians killed - including many women and children - and severe damage to five schools and one hospital. In the same period, attacks by non-State armed groups were reported, causing at least 17 civilian deaths, mainly women and children.
Since this latest military escalation started at the end of April, at least 105 civilians have been killed, and at least 200,000 people have fled the hostilities in southern Idlib and northern Hama.
In addition, the Office is also worried about the fate of people in al-Hol camp in al-Hassakeh Governorate in the northeast of the country. Currently, the camps hosts more than 70,000 people living in dire conditions.
The approximately 2,500 children under 12, born to ISIL-affiliated fathers are being kept with their mothers. Meanwhile, children older than 12 have reportedly been taken away from their mothers and are being held in separate unidentified “settlements”. Other reports suggest that Kurdish authorities are detaining those children in secret detention facilities in al-Hassakeh. Reportedly, they are neither allowed to communicate with their families nor have the families been informed about their whereabouts or status.
While the temporary restrictions of movement imposed on civilians at al-Hol and in other camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) run by the Kurdish authorities may be part of a screening and vetting process, the Office is concerned about the lack of clarity regarding how long these restrictions will last.
While any agreement to halt hostilities and spare civilians is to be welcomed and encouraged, this ceasefire agreement does not exclude that a large-scale offensive by Government forces and their allies aimed at re-taking territories in Idlib Governorate and surrounding areas remains possible in the near future.
Parties to the conflict are obliged to do everything feasible not to put civilians in harm’s way.
The forced removal of civilians for reasons related to the conflict may be done so only in order to guarantee their own security or due to military necessity and for no other reason. The failure of civilians to respond to an order to evacuate an area in no way affects their protected status under international humanitarian law.
For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / firstname.lastname@example.org Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / email@example.com or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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