On Syria and Refugees

September 14 - October 2, 2015
At-the-UN/Geneva/HRC30-Syria-2015
By: Dr. Yvonne von Stedingk

30th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council

Seldom has a session of the Human Rights Council been so dominated by one issue as the thirtieth session. With no end in sight, the conflict in Syria has continued to intensify with individuals suffering because of their gender, age, religion and/or profession.

In the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab republic (submitted pursuant to the HRC Resolution 22/24), the Commission presented its findings based on investigations conducted in the period January 10 - July 10, 2015. Denied access to the country as such, the Commission had to rely on first-hand accounts only. The findings concluded that without stronger efforts to obtain peace, the present killing and destruction is likely to to continue for the foreseeable future.

The Report examines the impact of the Syrian conflict on some of the most affected groups and communities, reporting how indiscriminate attacks on residential areas have caused massive casualties among Syrian civilians with some of the attacks being directed towards civilian gathering places, such as markets, etc. While few civilians have been left unscathed by the continuing brutality of the war, civilian men perceived to be of fighting age have been targeted by warring parties during ground attacks. Furthermore, throughout the conflict, women and girls have been targeted on the basis of their gender, imprisoned and subjected to torture.

Thousands of children have been killed or injured in indiscriminate aerial bombardment. Children are also one of the groups most affected by sieges. Of those who have died of malnutrition or dehydration, the majority are young children. The brutality of the conflict continues to generate unprecedented levels of displacement. With more than 4 million refugees and some 7.6 million internally displaced persons - IDPs- at least half of the Syrian Arab Republic's population has now been uprooted.

Medical personnel, Human Rights defenders, lawyers and journalists continue to be targeted for arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearances, torture and executions because of their professional activities. On the basis of the above, and more, the Commission of Inquiry reiterates the recommendations made in previous reports.

  1. The international community curb the proliferation and supply of weapons
  2. Sustain and expand funding and other supports for humanitarian operations
  3. Protect the human rights of all persons, including migrants, IDPs, asylum seekers and refugees which are part of customary treaties such as the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.pdf )and other relevant documents.

Finally, the Commission recommends that the Security Council:

  1. Support its recommendations made in previous reports
  2. Include regular briefings by the Commission of Inquiry as part of the formal agenda of the Security Council
  3. Take appropriate action by referring the situation to justice, possibly to the international criminal court or an ad hoc tribunal, bearing in mind that in the context of the Syrian Arab Republic, only the Security Council is competent to refer the situation
  4. Ensure immediate commitment by the relevant actors and stakeholders to a comprehensive peace process that responds sustainably to the aspirations of the Syrian population.

On Refugees

With the war in Syria intensifying, the number of armed incidents is rising. Many Syrians are fleeing from the Islamic State (ISIS) as well as from rebel-held areas attacked by the regime. These refugees are fleeing to nearby countries. Increasingly, the refugees living in neighboring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, where Syrians first found safety, are now actively being encouraged to leave. Refugees are frustrated with what they see as an additional burden on their already stretched resources. Furthermore, since neither Jordan or Lebanon are signatories on the 1951 Conventions, refugees are not allowed to work there legally.

The UN has had to cut the assistance to Syrians considerably, having only received a minor portion of the funds it needs this year. Most recently, therefore, it dropped the majority of Syrians in Jordan from its food assistance programs. It is hoped that money promised by the EU will help some. However, the reasons pulling people away from neighboring camps and towards Europe have become more powerful, particularly as the war in Syria is intensifying and the expectations of a possible return to Syria are unrealistic.

On Germany

Very quickly, Germany took the lead with the German Chancellor proclaiming that today's refugee situation could have grave consequences for the entire European Union. She reminded everyone that the EU was born after a devastating war on the promise of solidarity with the persecuted. "What now amounts to the biggest displacement of people since 1945", the Chancellor reminded, "is a test of European values and the ability of member states to work together. Clearly, the refugees from civil wars in Syria and Iraq and others need help, and European countries can provide it only if they share the tasks." That means a collective response.

Unfortunately, whereas external border controls for most EU members is a common problem, migration and asylum policies remain national. Refugees are supposed to seek asylum in the EU countries where they first set foot, and usually that is Italy or Greece. But these countries are overwhelmed and these refugees want to go further northward to Germany, Austria or Scandinavia. That is not difficult thanks to the dismantling of passport controls at the EU border (Schengen).

However there has been disagreement among the Eastern European countries, which has made the movements of the refugees more difficult. Germany expects to register up to 800,000 asylum seekers this year, which is far more than any other country in the EU. Clearly this extra-ordinary leadership is not appreciated by everybody in the country, but stands out as a shining example. It is to be hoped that what ultimately may contribute to an increased awareness of European values will eventually bring something positive, not only the influx of refugees, but the spirit that f Europe as a whole will gain.

Most immediately, the hope must remain with a successful peace process leading to a stable and lasting peace. Without it there can be no hope for the millions now uprooted.