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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Muted International Response to Rising Civilian Deaths in Idlib Roils UN Rights Chief

By Lisa Schelin July 27, 2019

As civilian casualties mount in Syria's north-western province of Idlib, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says she is alarmed that the continued carnage in this war-torn country is no longer on the international radar.

In the last three months, UN Human Rights Chief Michele Bachelet has documented nearly 500 civilian deaths in Idlib, including more than 100 in the past 10 days.

Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, says the High Commissioner is alarmed at the apparent international indifference to the rising civilian death toll caused by a succession of airstrikes.

He says the latest bombing campaign by the government and its Russian allies has caused enormous damage to civilian infrastructure. He says some 40 health facilities, at least 50 schools and other civilian infrastructure such as markets and bakeries have been attacked.

"These are civilian objects, and it seems highly unlikely, given the persistent pattern of such attacks, that they are all being hit by accident," said Colville. "Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions."

Last year, Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to create a buffer zone between opposing forces in Idlib. This was aimed at preventing the government and armed rebel groups from fighting, thereby protecting some three million civilians trapped in the province with nowhere to go.

However, the status quo has been waning. Russia's discontent with elements of the agreement and the government of Assad al-Bashir's desire to retake this last opposition stronghold have led to the recent escalation of fighting.

Bachelet warns this will have dire human rights and humanitarian consequences for the millions of civilians trying to survive in Idlib. She is calling on powerful States to use their influence to halt the current military campaign and bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table.

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