Syria

76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee: Statement by Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

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New York/São Paulo (Virtual), 25 October 2021

Monsieur le Président de l'Assemblée Générale des Nations Unies, Excellencies, Colleagues,

Mesdames et Messieurs,

Last month, we presented our 36th report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

All of you are well aware of the several hundred thousands who have been killed, the tens of thousands detained and the even larger number missing or disappeared; the 12.4 million Syrians who are food insecure and the staggering 12 million Syrians displaced. We have described in detail continuing human rights abuses and war crimes.

Today I have come with questions to you that ordinary Syrians are asking and we owe them a reply.

Many States and analysts would prefer to be done with the Syria conflict. The Government controls over 70% of the country and President Assad has been re-elected. But the reality is that the war against the Syrian people continues.

As we speak, millions of civilians continue to be condemned to war, terror, and grief. Many of those displaced have seen their properties destroyed or seized by the Government, armed groups or terrorist groups – they have little left to return to and little prospects for their livelihoods. Winter is coming yet again, bringing bitter cold into their makeshift tents. Syrians now face a new wave of the pandemic with 2,1 per cent of the population fully vaccinated. The Security Council is permitting but one single border crossing to deliver humanitarian aid.

This is not a time for anyone to be thinking that Syria is safe for its refugees to return home.

Instead, we are seeing an upsurge in fighting and violence. The lull in hostilities in northwest Syria, brought about by the March 2020 ceasefire is

unravelling with medical facilities, markets and residential areas being hit by aerial and ground attacks, often indiscriminately.

The UN-designated terrorist organization Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham continues imposing its writ and abusing rights with impunity, including by arbitrarily detaining media activists and journalists, including women.

Parts of southwest Syria have recently experienced the return of fighting and siege-like tactics not seen since before 2018. In Dar’a Al-Balad, pro-Government forces imposed a siege coupled with heavy artillery shelling, leaving tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside until last month.

In the northern Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, civilians live in fear of VBIED that kill and maim civilians, while indiscriminate shelling increased this summer. The opposition-linked “Syrian National Army” continue to deprive civilians of their liberty, at times torturing them in detention.

The northeast has been seeing increased attacks by Da’esh, targeted killings of tribal leaders, and mounting discontent and protests, during which several protesters were shot dead by elements of the “Syrian Democratic Forces.”

Meanwhile, in Al Hawl and other displacement-turned-detention camps across northeast Syria, 40,000 children have been unlawfully deprived of their

liberty for years now. Most are under 12 years old. Nearly half are Iraqi, 7,800 come from nearly 60 other countries.

How many more times will we have to call on Member States and local authorities to bring their children home? These children are victims first and foremost. They need protection, education, a real childhood. Punishing children for the crimes of their parents cannot be justified.

Excellences,

Hundreds of thousands Syrians wake up each morning, worrying about the fate and whereabouts of missing loved ones

We respectfully ask the distinguished representative of the Syrian Arab Republic, how much longer must they wait for your Government to let them know? For you to let the detainees contact their families? For you to allow visits by independent monitors or to release prisoners who are sick, infirm or elderly? I pose the same questions to the other parties holding prisoners in Syria. This situation is unconscionable.

No lengthy negotiations should be required for such simple, humane acts. This failure to act is a disgrace to all involved and should disgust the distinguished representatives gathered at this Assembly.

This issue is a national trauma, and families of the missing on all sides in Syria are together urging the international community to help them, including

by creating an independent mechanism or initiative to coordinate and consolidate information regarding missing persons.

Will we keep them waiting or will Member States act now in response to their plea?

Excellencies,

Syria will go down in history as an example of the failure of multilateralism, of our inability to put aside differences for the cause of peace and security, development and human rights. I ask you, when will Member States reign in the actors over whom they have influence and cease providing arms and support for parties that commit egregious crimes? When will all constraints on aid be removed, including those caused by obstacles to cross- border or cross-line delivery, or by sanctions? When will we truly reorient efforts and energy towards making Syria a safer, more rights-respecting environment in line with interests and aspirations of the Syrian people?

Thank you.