Syria - Country of Concern, latest update, 30 September 2014

0.1 Latest Update: 30 September 2014

The human rights situation in Syria remains of grave concern. The death toll from the conflict is now over 191,000, with 10.8 million people in humanitarian need inside Syria, of which 6.5 million are internally displaced within the region.

On 13 August, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry (CoI) issued its report on Syria. It found that all sides of the conflict were committing war crimes and attacks against civilians. This included committing massacres, torture, rape, hostage-taking and enforced disappearance. The CoI and other reports make it clear that the vast majority of the worst atrocities are the responsibility of the Assad regime and extremist groups. The report notes that the Assad regime has been responsible for indiscriminate shelling, barrel bomb attacks, chlorine gas attacks and airstrikes, causing further deterioration in human rights and the humanitarian situation. The report further stated that many areas under bombardment or siege were yielding to local truces, as a result of the Assad regime’s “starvation or submission” strategy. The CoI has asked the UN Security Council (UNSC) to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. The Chair of the CoI, Mr Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, has stated that, in the last two months, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has continued to execute civilians brutally and publicly, as well as captured rebel fighters and government soldiers. The UK will continue to condemn all violations and abuses of human rights, regardless of who committed them.

On 30 September, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Baroness Valerie Amos, briefed the UNSC on the humanitarian situation, and the implementation of resolutions 2139 and 2165 on humanitarian access. Despite these resolutions, violence against civilians and violations of international humanitarian law continued unabated, subjecting people to daily displacement and deprivation. The spread of ISIL beheadings, mass murders, sexual enslavement of women and girls, and child recruitment demonstrates the worsening situation. Despite the dangers, the UN and its partners continue to reach people in need, delivering food aid to 4.1 million people in August. There has also been a limited increase in aid delivered across borders in line with resolution 2165.

On 22 September, the US announced that it had carried out airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria, with the support of five Arab partners – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. There are widespread reports that ISIL is increasingly abandoning military bases and key administrative centres, and establishing presence in civilian areas. This presents a concern for the safety of civilians as well as mass displacement. Recent events in Iraq show the threat ISIL poses for religious and ethnic minorities inside Syria.

Women living in ISIL-controlled areas have been banned from public life. They are not allowed to walk the streets unaccompanied or work without the supervision of males. Education for girls after primary school has been curtailed, and there are reports that early and forced marriages are increasing. Some women have been stoned to death, ostensibly for adultery. During the last three months, two US journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and a British NGO aid worker, David Haines, were beheaded by ISIL, showing the dangers for those Westerners who remain in Syria.

Other extremist groups have also conducted attacks on civilian areas, including an attack against a school in Homs on 1 October, which is reported to have killed over 50 people. The Al-Qaeda affiliated group, Jabhat Al-Nusra, also kidnapped UN peacekeepers stationed in the Golan Heights. They have now been released safely.

On 25 September, during his closing speech at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister David Cameron focused his remarks on tackling the threat posed by ISIL, and stated that its murderous barbarism in Syria and Iraq threatened “people of every faith and none”. He underlined the importance of support to humanitarian efforts and capacity building for those fighting against the extremism in both countries.