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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Head of UN human rights inquiry decries 'disastrous' civilian death toll in Syria

14 June 2017 – Conflict in Syria continues to rage with "disastrous consequences" for civilians who continue to bear the brunt of the six-year war, the head of a United Nations-mandated human rights investigation said today.

In an update to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, appealed to the warring parties to stop fighting and get back to the negotiating table. Civilians, he said, are in the unenviable role of being the target of most of the violence, he said.

In his latest update to the Human Rights Council, Mr. Pinheiro said it was his twentieth report to the body and underscored once again the unspeakable toll on civilians.

The so-called "de-escalation zones" agreement – which is guaranteed by Russia, Turkey and Iran – had resulted in a "discernible" reduction in violence in Idlib and western Aleppo. And while that initiative – along with UN-facilitated intra-Syrian talks – was a "step in the right direction," the enduring violence in Homs, Damascus and southern Dara'a, "has not changed in nature," he explained to the Council members.

"Whether it be the unrestrained use of airstrikes against residential neighbourhoods, attacks against doctors and hospitals, or the use of suicide bombers that deliberately target civilians, fighting remains brutal in purpose and reprehensible in method," stated Mr. Pinheiro.

Intensified airstrikes led to a 'staggering loss of life' in Raqqa

He went on to note that Syrian opposition forces were continuing their assault on Raqqa city, where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) was losing ground. Success against the terrorist group could lead to the liberation of civilians trapped in the city, including Yazidi women and girls, three years after they were captured in neighbouring Iraq to be sold as sex slaves to ISIL fighters.

ISIL's abuse of the Yazidi people is nothing less than an "ongoing and unaddressed genocide," Mr. Pinheiro said.

Grave as this charge is, he insisted that the fight to retake terrorist strongholds should not be "at the expense" of the "mounting number of civilians" killed in airstrikes – a reference to aerial attacks that had preceded the opposition forces' advance on Raqqa, and which he said had caused a "staggering" loss of life.

Elsewhere in what remains of Syria's cities and towns, some 600,000 people remain under siege. They have been denied humanitarian aid for prolonged periods, and this has led to severe shortages of food and stunted children whose health will be affected for life, Mr Pinheiro stated.

The only way to end this suffering is to end the war, he appealed to parties involved in the conflict - and to Member States who could influence those fighting:

"Time and time again, warring parties and influential States have failed to capitalize on the opportunities presented by respites from hostilities. And time and again, Syrian men, women, and children pay the price for the continuation of the war. Warring parties must not let yet another opportunity pass by. The parties must press to ensure that any de-escalation in hostilities is accompanied by renewed efforts to access communities in need, to strengthen the human rights protections for all people across Syria, and to generate meaningful momentum for peace."

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