(RTTNews) – Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on Friday expressed “deep alarm” over the increased threat to civilians in unrest-hit Syria, and warned the country’s government as well as the armed opposition of severe consequences if they do not abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.
“The Government has the prime responsibility to protect civilians from all forms of violence. While Government forces have on some occasions, in accordance with international humanitarian law, given civilians a clear opportunity to leave areas it is attacking, on other occasions it has not. Effective warning is required by international humanitarian law, Pillay said in a news release issued Friday.
“Civilians and civilian objects – including homes and other property, businesses, schools and places of worship – must be protected at all times. All parties, including the Government and opposition forces, must ensure that they distinguish between civilian and military targets,” she added.
The UN rights chief also expressed particular concerns over the possibility of a major confrontation between Syrian troops and opposition fighters in the country’s second largest city of Aleppo. Syrian forces have surrounded the east part of the city, which was seized by rebels last week. The rebels in Aleppo are currently bracing themselves for the imminent government offensive.
Although the rebels had launched a similar offensive last week to seize the capital city Damascus, their efforts were thwarted by government forces. While several sections of the city witnessed heavy fighting, Damascus has since been secured by Syrian security forces.
“I have been receiving as yet unconfirmed reports of atrocities, including extra-judicial killings and shooting of civilians by snipers, that took place during the recent fighting in various suburbs of Damascus. It goes without saying that the increasing use of heavy weapons, tanks, attack helicopters and – reportedly – even jet fighters in urban areas has already caused many civilian casualties and is putting many more at grave risk,” Pillay noted in Friday’s press release.
Pointing out that the conflict has so far displaced between one and 1.5 million people in Syria, the UN High Commissioner said “a discernible pattern has emerged” as government forces try to clear areas it says are occupied by opposition forces.
“Typically, during the initial stages, after a village or urban district has been surrounded, water, electricity and food supplies are cut. This is followed by intense shelling and bombardment by a variety of weaponry, increasingly with air support from attack helicopters, and now reportedly even jet aircraft. Then tanks move in, followed by ground forces who proceed door-to-door and reportedly often summarily execute people they suspect of being opposition fighters, although sometimes they detain them,” she said.
About the increasing reports of opposition fighters torturing or executing prisoners, Pillay said murder, willful killings and torture, whether committed by government or opposition forces, constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes. She said evidence gathered from various sources indicate that such crimes are being committed in Syria.
“Those who are committing them should not believe that they will escape justice. The world does not forget or forgive crimes like these. This applies to opposition forces committing crimes as well as to Government forces and their allies,” she added.
The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The opposition, however, claims the actual death toll closer to 17,000.
The ongoing conflict in Syria is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community and has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in camps in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.
- Exclusive: Syria now an “internal armed conflict” – Red Cross (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Syrian Victims Seek Recourse in U.s Courts Against Syrian Arab Republic Officials (syriantaskforce.org)
- UN rights chief calls for sparing civilians in Syria’s Aleppo (vancouverdesi.com)