Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Feb18/08)
19 February 2018
Third World Network
Zeid alarmed over soaring hostilities in Syria, Yemen
Published in SUNS #8621 dated 14 February 2018
Geneva, 13 Feb (Kanaga Raja) - The UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has voiced concern over the soaring
violence and bloodshed, mostly caused by airstrikes, in the opposition-held
Eastern Ghouta and Idlib regions of Syria, as well as over the continuing
civilian casualties in Yemen as the hostilities there increase and
On Syria, Zeid called for urgent international action, saying that
after seven years of paralysis in the Security Council the situation
in the country is crying out to be referred to the International Criminal
Court, as well as for a much more concerted effort by States to bring
In a UN news release on 10 February 2018, the High Commissioner said:
"The past week has been one of the bloodiest periods of the entire
conflict, with wave after wave of deadly airstrikes leading to civilian
casualties in areas of Eastern Ghouta and Idlib."
"The no-holds-barred nature of this assault is evidenced by reports
that at least nine medical facilities, six of them in Idlib and three
in Eastern Ghouta, were hit by airstrikes. Even by Syria's atrocious
standards, these are exceptionally deplorable developments -- and
a cruel irony given that both have been declared "de-escalation
areas"," he said.
Meanwhile, a separate statement released on 10 February 2018 by the
Spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said
that the Secretary-General is following closely the alarming military
escalation throughout Syria and the dangerous spillover across its
According to the statement attributable to the Spokesman, Stephane
Dujarric, the latest events come as the Syrian people suffer through
one of the most violent periods in nearly seven years of conflict.
Over 1,000 civilian casualties from airstrikes were reported in the
first week of February alone.
The Secretary-General stressed once again that all concerned in Syria
and the region have a responsibility and must abide by international
law and relevant Security Council resolutions.
He called on all to work for an immediate and unconditional de-escalation
of violence and exercise restraint.
The Secretary-General further called on the parties to move swiftly
toward a political solution, in line with Security Council Resolution
2254, which is the only way to end the violence and the terrible suffering
of the Syrian people.
Last week, the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of
Inquiry on Syria also expressed deep concern over the further escalation
of violence in Idlib governorate and in eastern Ghouta.
In a press release of 6 February 2018, it said that since the beginning
of the year, the increase in violence in Idlib has resulted in another
upsurge of internal displacement with over a quarter of a million
civilians reportedly fleeing the fighting, according to reports received
by the Commission.
"These reports are extremely troubling, and make a mockery of
the so-called "de-escalation zones" intended to protect
civilians from such bombardment," said Mr Paulo Sergio Pinheiro,
the Chair of the Commission.
"The parties to this conflict are failing in their obligations
under international humanitarian law, including their absolute obligation
to refrain from attacks against medical facilities and personnel,"
The Commission said that most alarmingly, it has received multiple
reports - which it is now investigating - that bombs allegedly containing
weaponised chlorine have been used in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib
and in Douma in eastern Ghouta.
Mounting attacks in Idlib come at a time when the escalation of violence
in eastern Ghouta has also magnified the longstanding humanitarian
crisis in that besieged pocket on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus,
Airstrikes and shelling of areas held by anti-government armed groups
has compounded a three year siege in which nearly 400,000 civilians
- including children - have had little access to basic assistance,
including food, medicines and life-saving health assistance.
"What is happening in eastern Ghouta is not simply a humanitarian
crisis because aid is denied, these sieges involve the international
crimes of indiscriminate bombardment and deliberate starvation of
the civilian population," said the Chair of the Commission.
"It is time for all warring parties to make the lives of civilians
their paramount concern," Mr Pinheiro said. "This requires
unimpeded humanitarian access to the civilian population and an end
to indiscriminate bombardment."
The Commission called on all parties to abide by the basic principles
of international humanitarian law and to take every necessary precaution
to protect civilians.
The Commission of Inquiry on Syria is expected to present an oral
update to the upcoming thirty-seventh session of the UN Human Rights
Council beginning later this month.
According to the UN news release of 10 February 2018, the UN Human
Rights Office, in all, has received reports indicating that at least
277 civilians have been killed between 4 and 9 February - 230 of them
by airstrikes by the Syrian Government and its allies - with a further
812 civilians injured, taking the total number of civilian casualties
during the first week of February to around 1,074.
"My staff in the region have catalogued dozens of specific incidents
that have reportedly led to deaths, injuries and destruction of vital
infrastructure over the past week," Zeid said.
"These range from a rolling series of airstrikes on residential
areas of Duma on 6 February which reportedly killed at least 31 civilians,
including 12 women and four children, and injured more than 100 others,
including 37 children, to a strike the previous day on a blood bank
in Saraqab city in Idlib, which had already been rendered inoperable
by an earlier airstrike in January."
In all, the High Commissioner said, his staff had received reports
of airstrikes damaging no fewer than nine separate medical facilities
ranging from a key hospital that was still functioning in Idlib, to
a mental health care facility and a medical clinic in Kafr Batna in
So-called "first responders" - paramedical staff and volunteers
- were also killed and injured in a number of locations after second,
third or fourth rounds of airstrikes apparently deliberately targeted
places that had already been hit earlier in the day.
In Idlib, where at least two million civilians reside, the air and
ground offensive by Syrian Government forces and their allies, as
well as leading to civilian casualties and extensive destruction,
has also reportedly resulted in the displacement - for many of them
repeated - of thousands of civilians, said the news release.
UN Human Rights Office staff have received reports - including video
footage - suggesting that in one instance, on 4 February, toxic agents
may have been released following airstrikes on a residential area
of eastern Saraqab city, although there were no reported deaths during
According to the news release, the dramatically increased number of
airstrikes and ground-based strikes on the besieged Rural Damascus
area of Eastern Ghouta, where some 350,000 people are believed to
remain trapped, have killed at least 210 civilians - over a quarter
of them children and 42 of them women - mostly between 5 and 8 February.
A total of at least 671 civilians have also allegedly been injured
in the Eastern Ghouta attacks, with a school and a kindergarten damaged
alongside the three medical facilities.
The news release said that numerous rockets and mortars continue to
be fired from opposition-held areas into populated areas of Government-held
capital Damascus and surrounding suburbs, with at least seven civilians
reported killed and 18 others injured in various locations between
6 and 9 February.
Other parts of Syria continue to be affected by past or current fighting.
In the Afrin district in the north-west controlled by Kurdish forces,
a Turkish-led offensive launched on 20 January is placing large numbers
of civilians at risk.
There have been reports of civilians including children being killed
and injured as a result of airstrikes and ground-based strikes. Some
inhabitants wishing to flee are apparently being prevented from doing
so by Kurdish forces.
In the east of the country, airstrikes and ground-based strikes continue
in areas still under ISIL control - primarily in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate
- with reports of civilian casualties, although the greatest threat
now faced by civilians in such areas are improvised explosive devices
and other explosive remnants of war.
According to the UN news release, civilians in, or returning to, Ar-Raqqa
Governorate continue to face major hardships after the expulsion of
ISIL forces late last year.
Their ability to enjoy basic human rights remains severely restricted
given the large-scale destruction of homes and key infrastructure
during the fighting, and the large quantities of explosive objects
scattered among the ruins.
"Numerous parties have been involved in the conflict in Syria
over the past seven years," said Zeid.
"The various Governments involved profess to adhere to international
humanitarian and human rights law, and some armed opposition groups
similarly profess to adhere to international humanitarian law - and
yet violations of international law continue on a daily basis, despite
the creation of so-called "de-escalation areas" in 2017,"
According to the news release, deaths and inhuman treatment resulting
from the failure to allow for the care and collection of the sick
and wounded in Eastern Ghouta; the destruction of protected structures
and other objects essential for the survival of the civilian population
in both Idlib and Eastern Ghouta; and the bombardment of civilian
areas in Idlib, Eastern Ghouta, and the city of Damascus may, depending
on the circumstances, all constitute war crimes.
"The term "de-escalation area" is becoming all too
reminiscent of the so-called "safe areas" in Bosnia, which
proved anything but safe, as we were starkly reminded during the recent
trials of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic," Zeid pointed out.
"But the conflict in Bosnia was brought to a halt by the international
community after four years. The Syrian conflict has continued, with
active involvement by other states, for seven blood-soaked years with
no end in sight. The prevailing climate of impunity has to be addressed
and civilians must be protected".
"After seven years of paralysis in the Security Council, the
situation in Syria is crying out to be referred to the International
Criminal Court, as well as for a much more concerted effort by States
to bring peace. The conduct and management of this war has been utterly
shameful from the outset, and the failure to end it marks an epic
failure of global diplomacy," the High Commissioner concluded.
RISING HOSTILITIES IN YEMEN
In a separate UN news release of 12 February, the High Commissioner
for Human Rights expressed alarm at the continuing civilian casualties
"The upsurge in fighting in the south-western Governorate of
Taizz is of particular concern. Civilians are under fire on all sides,
as Houthi and affiliated forces carry out sniper attacks and indiscriminate
shelling, and the Saudi-led Coalition continues to conduct airstrikes.
For the civilians in the city of Taizz, the conflict is not just escalating
but inescapable," said Zeid.
Among the incidents verified by the UN Human Rights Office, three
children were killed when Houthi forces shelled Usayfrah in Al Qahirah
district in Northern Taizz on 6 February.
On 8 February, a woman working as a field monitor for the Yemen National
Commission of Inquiry, Reeham Badr Al Dhubhani, was killed in shelling
by Houthi forces on Al-Lasb area in Salh district.
"Reeham Badr Al Dhubhani had received training from my Office
in carrying out human rights monitoring, and we send our profound
condolences to her family and friends. We grieve [for] her, as we
grieve for all the thousands of Yemenis whose lives have been destroyed
by this bitter conflict," said the Rights chief.
According to the news release, increased armed clashes in Taizz between
Houthi-affiliated forces and those loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour
Hadi in recent weeks have also fuelled fears that the violence will
spread from suburban areas of Taizz City to other neighbourhoods,
including the densely populated area of Alhuban.
Between 1 and 8 February, the UN Human Rights Office verified that
27 people were killed and 76 injured in Yemen - more than double the
number of civilian casualties confirmed during the previous week.
The actual figures are likely to be higher. Most of the casualties
were attributed almost equally to the warring parties - 48 to the
Coalition, and 51 to the Houthi forces. Two were killed by drones,
one by Al Qaeda and in one case the perpetrator is unknown.
During this period, the UN Human Rights Office also documented sniping
and indiscriminate shelling by Houthi forces in frontline areas in
Hudaydah and Hajja Governorates, and airstrikes by the Coalition on
areas under the control of the Houthi forces, including in Sana'a,
Sa'ada, Hudaydah and Amran Governorates.
Eight civilians, including a woman and a child, were killed and 32
injured on 4 February when three airstrikes hit a Ministry of the
Interior building in Thahban area, Bani Al Harith district, in Amanat
Al Asimah Governorate.
According to the UN news release, UN Human Rights Office monitors
who visited the scene said there did not appear to be any military
objects near the building, which had previously been hit in January
"The parties to this conflict are obliged to take constant care
to spare the civilian population, respecting the principles of distinction,
proportionality and precaution. I remind them that any intentional,
direct attack against civilians or civilian objects is considered
a serious violation of international humanitarian law, and that they
should take all feasible precautions to avoid, and in any event, minimise,
the impact of violence on civilians," Zeid said.
Since March 2015 and as of 8 February 2018, the UN Human Rights office
had documented 15,467 civilian casualties, with 5,974 killed and 9,493
Meanwhile, in a statement on Yemen issued on 12 February, the UN Under-Secretary-General
for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr Mark
Lowcock, reiterated UN Secretary-General Guterres' statement welcoming
the US$1 billion pledge by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
(UAE) to support humanitarian action in Yemen, as well as their commitment
to raise an additional $500 million from other donors in the region.
According to the statement of the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Saudi
Arabia and the UAE agreed with the UN on 12 February on modalities
to transfer, by 31 March, $930 million in support of the 2018 Yemen
Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP).
An additional $70 million will be provided bilaterally by the two
countries to support port rehabilitation and infrastructure in Yemen.
If fully funded, the UN and its partners will provide, among other
assistance, emergency food to more than 8.5 million Yemenis, nutritional
services to 5.6 million children, pregnant women and mothers, and
safe water to 5.4 million people.
The UN and its partners will also rehabilitate more than 1,400 schools
and 650 health facilities destroyed by the ongoing conflict, said
It noted that the humanitarian situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate
because of the ongoing conflict, collapsing basic services and economic
decline. A record 22.2 million people are now in need of humanitarian
assistance - 3.4 million more than last year.
Mr Lowcock called on all parties to the conflict to respect international
humanitarian law by protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure
and facilitating rapid, safe and unfettered humanitarian access to
Yemen and within the country.