The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 71/130, in which the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to report within 45 days on the implementation of the resolution. It provides an update on political, security, humanitarian and human rights aspects of the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic during the period from 9 December 2016 to 25 January 2017. It also contains recommendations on ways and means to protect civilians, as requested in the resolution.
1. The overall situation in the Syrian Arab Republic continued to be characterized by armed conflict between the Government, armed opposition groups, Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Security Council-designated terrorist groups. Parties to the conflict continued to be supported by outside actors, some of which carried out direct military action on the ground, namely Iran (Islamic Republic of), the Russian Federation, Turkey and members of the anti-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition led by the United States of America, as well as Hizbullah. By the end of December, government military operations, supported by Iranian-backed militias, Hizbullah and the Russian Federation, to retake the eastern parts of the city of Aleppo from armed opposition groups had been completed, as had the evacuation of the remaining members of those groups and civilians wishing to leave with them.
2. The reporting period witnessed increased diplomatic activity, culminating in an agreement between the Russian Federation and Turkey to act as guarantors of a ceasefire, which went into effect on 30 December, and to undertake efforts to organize a meeting in Astana on 23 and 24 January 2017 between representatives of the Government and armed opposition groups. The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria participated in this effort and also announced his intention to convene intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva on 8 February.
3. The humanitarian situation remained grave. Humanitarian access by the United Nations and its partners to besieged and hard-to-reach areas remained severely obstructed, predominantly by the Government. December was the worst month of 2016 in terms of humanitarian access to those most in need. More than half a million civilians remained under siege, the overwhelming majority by the Government. Deeply disturbing reports of disregard for international humanitarian law by the parties to the conflict continued to be received.
4. On 21 December, the Security Council received a summary of the findings of the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry into the attack on a United Nations-Syrian Arab Red Crescent relief operation to Urum al-Kubra on 19 September (see S/2016/1093).
5. Reports of the use of banned munitions, especially by the Government, continued to reveal violations of international norms on indiscriminate weapons and the principle of proportionality. The reports included the use of cluster munitions, incendiary phosphorous munitions, barrel bombs, bunker-busting bombs and chemical weapons in densely populated civilian areas. Civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, emergency response facilities and personnel and drinking water, has reportedly been targeted by air strikes by the Government and allied forces. There were also reports of indiscriminate attacks on civilians by the armed opposition, including attacks on civilian infrastructure, such as the shelling of urban areas and an attack on a convoy of empty buses en route to the besieged towns of Fu‘ah and Kafraya.
6. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic continued to document violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law on the basis of information collected outside the country, given that, as at the time of writing, the Government continued to deny the Commission access to its territory. On 21 December, by its resolution 71/248, the General Assembly established the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011. Pursuant to that resolution, the Assembly has before it a report outlining the terms of reference of the Mechanism, including its mandate, methodology, legal framework and other relevant aspects, in addition to the steps envisaged to ensure its speedy establishment and full functioning (A/71/755). The Mechanism should complement the Commission of Inquiry by applying established investigative and prosecutorial practices, in accordance with international criminal law standards. Careful, systematic compilation of physical and witness evidence should facilitate and expedite the current or future work of national, regional or international courts or tribunals.