UN rights officials deplore Syrian regime’s aerial attacks, warn of retaliation by armed groups

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Geneva – Condemning the rising number of Government aerial attacks in Syria and the use of indiscriminate weapons, such as barrel bombs, including in civilian populated areas, a group of United Nations officials today warned of retaliatory action by non-State armed groups, which could increase the vulnerability of religious and ethnic minorities perceived to support the Government.

“Government air strikes have reportedly killed more than a hundred civilians in the past week. Employing means or methods of combat which cannot distinguish civilian from military objectives is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. Not only has the Government of Syria failed in its responsibility to protect its populations from atrocity crimes, but it continues to attack its own people,” says the statement.

The statements was issued by: the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng; the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, Jennifer Welsh; the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák; and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt.

The Special Advisers and the Special Rapporteurs sounded the alarm about the broader consequences of the aerial attacks by Government forces for particular communities in Syria. As a result of such strikes, they said, non-State armed groups could carry out large scale reprisal attacks against religious and ethnic minorities perceived to be associated with the Government, including Shia civilians who live in Aleppo and Idleb governorates, and Druze communities concentrated in As Suwayda governorate.

In addition, the experts reiterated their concern about the ongoing threat to the safety of minority groups in Syria, including Alawites, Armenians, Assyrians, Druze, Ismailis and Kurds, who are being killed, persecuted or otherwise targeted – primarily by non-state armed groups, including Jabhat al Nusra and the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ – on the basis of their religious or ethnic identity. 

“We call on all parties to respect international human rights and humanitarian law and immediately stop targeting people on the basis of who they are or what they believe and to do everything, in action as well as in words, to prevent further rifts and escalation of tensions along sectarian lines.”

The Special Advisers and the Special Rapporteurs also condemned advocacy of racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence in the traditional and social media against ethnic and religious minorities in Syria. In particular, they expressed outrage at recent speeches and media articles that dehumanise Alawites and Christians and call for their conversion, or death.

All parties to the conflict, including the Syrian Government and non-state armed groups, are alleged to have committed grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, adds the statement

Denouncing the prevailing culture of impunity in Syria, the Special Advisers and the Special Rapporteurs warned that “it must be made very clear to everyone carrying a gun, or holding a command position, that perpetrators of atrocity crimes in Syria will be held to account.”

“The protection of the populations in [Syria] is the primary responsibility of the Syrian state. However, in face of the State’s failure to do so, and with a situation of continued attacks against civilians by all parties to the conflict, the international community – and in particular the Security Council – has the responsibility to take timely and decisive action to protect populations in Syria,” stated the group of experts.

UNHCR 

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