Human Rights and Democracy Report 2016 - CHAPTER VI: Human Rights Priority Countries - Syria

In 2016 the human rights situation in Syria remained bleak. Violence continued despite efforts to establish a cessation of hostilities. Allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses by parties to the conflict continue. The Asad regime bears the main responsibility for human rights violations and suffering.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), there was widespread and systematic use of arbitrary detention and torture by regime forces in Syria. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that more than 117,000 people were detained or disappeared since the conflict started in March 2011, the majority by regime forces. Amnesty International (AI) estimated that 17,723 people had died in custody in Syria since 2011; an average of more than 10 deaths a day. AI also estimated that between 5,000-13,000 were extrajudicially executed at Saydnaya prison up to December 2015. They had no reason to believe that executions have stopped.

HRW (2017 World Report) and the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) cited disproportionate attacks by the regime and its backers on civilian areas, including aerial bombardments, barrel bombs and cluster munitions. The COI reported that medical workers and facilities came under sustained targeted attack. Healthcare infrastructure was weakened, with devastating consequences for civilians.

The Syrian regime used siege and starvation tactics against civilian areas under opposition control. As 2016 progressed, humanitarian access decreased. The regime allowed no humanitarian assistance to the estimated 275,000 civilians in eastern Aleppo between July and December, thus failing to take action to protect the fundamental human right to life.

The UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism confirmed use of chemical weapons by the regime on three occasions and by Daesh on one. The COI reported widespread human rights abuses by Daesh and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) including kidnappings and executions. The COI’s report on Daesh’s treatment of the Yezidi community concluded the group had committed the crime of genocide against the Yezidis. Daesh have inflicted sexual slavery, torture and forcible transfer.

NGOs reported human rights abuses by opposition groups, though to a lesser extent than the regime.

The UK is supporting efforts to secure a long-term political settlement in Syria which will end the war, stop the suffering and create conditions for refugees to return. We continue to call for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court and for accountability. This is the best strategy for the restoration of human rights in the long term.

The UK led on three UN Human Right Council (HRC) Resolutions on Syria in 2016. HRC Resolution 33/32 of 20 September 2016 called for the establishment of a High-Level Panel on arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances. At Syria’s Universal Periodic Review, we drew international attention to the regime’s appalling human rights record.

In the UN Security Council, we highlighted the human consequences of the regime’s offensive against Aleppo and called for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access. We supported adoption of Resolution 2328 (19 December 2016), which demanded access for the UN to oversee evacuations and deliver humanitarian aid.

The UK co-sponsored General Assembly Resolution 71/248 adopted on 21 December 2016. This called for a new mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those in Syria responsible for the most serious crimes under international law.

The UK will continue to help those affected by the Syrian war, including working for the conditions which allow the restoration of the human rights which have been systematically denied - largely through the actions of the Asad regime.