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Civilians pay the price for the extreme violence waged by warring parties in Syria
by ICRC, MSF, NRC, OCHA, agencies
Geneva, 1 March 2017
Remarks by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic made at Press Conference.
My colleague Carla del Ponte and I are here to launch our 13th report to the Human Rights Council. Pursuant to the special session of the Human Rights Council in late October last year and the resolution that resulted, this report focuses exclusively on the events in Aleppo. By Aleppo, we mean the situation in Aleppo city and its surrounding areas from mid-July until late December 2016.
As is our practice – and mandate - the Commission investigated allegations of violations by all sides in an independent and impartial manner. We interviewed over 290 civilian victims and witnesses on all sides of the fighting. Sadly, once more, it was the civilians that paid the price for the extreme violence waged by the warring parties. Civilians in Aleppo were not just caught in the line of fire. More often than not, they were the target.
For months, the Syrian and Russian air forces relentlessly bombarded eastern Aleppo city as part of a strategy to force surrender. Hospitals, orphanages, markets, schools and homes were all but obliterated.
Unable to leave after pro-Government forces laid siege to eastern Aleppo in July, hundreds of civilians, many of them children, lost their lives to the daily bombardments that used concrete-piercing bombs, cluster munitions, incendiary weapons and crudely weaponised chlorine canisters on civilian-inhabited areas.
Continuous shelling fired by armed groups into western Aleppo city and Sheikh Maqsoud, killed and maimed countless civilians. The use of improvised weapons and lack of clear military targets shows these were indiscriminate attacks carried out to terrorise the civilian population.
No one is safe from attack in Syria. In one of, if not the most, egregious attacks investigated by the Commission, the Syrian Air Force ruthlessly targeted a United Nations/Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy as it prepared to deliver aid to opposition-held areas.
Almost no one was left unscathed: 14 aid workers were killed, most of the remaining ones were injured. 17 trucks of much-needed aid items were destroyed. Civilians all across Syria suffered from the suspension of delivery of humanitarian aid that ensued.
As the recapture of eastern Aleppo became inevitable, some armed groups prevented civilians from leaving, effectively using them as human shields. The final evacuation agreement for eastern Aleppo resulted in the removal of the entire population of the effected districts, not just the fighters who negotiated and agreed to its terms.
Such agreements, which amount to forced displacement, are not a new phenomenon. Rather, they have become the all too common blueprint for how sieges end in Syria. They exemplify how civilian populations are used by the warring parties for political and military gains.
I should note that the Commission remains extremely concerned by the financial and logistic support received by parties to the conflict, in particular armed groups, from both individuals and from Member States that helps drive this grinding and increasingly complex conflict. States in particular must ensure that any party to the conflict in receipt of their financial, material or direct support adhere to the laws of war, or they risk being complicit in such crimes as well.
What happened in Aleppo is not new. The Commission has long documented how similar violations, including the use of sieges and aerial attacks, have been employed cynically to force the surrender of armed opponents and any civilians unfortunate enough to be caught in their areas of control. But the scale of what happened in Aleppo is unprecedented in the Syrian conflict. Much of Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city and its commercial and cultural centre and a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been reduced to rubble. Over 100,000 people have been displaced and are struggling to survive.
What happened in Aleppo shows how much the warring parties disregard international law and how little they fear accountability. We hope that our report not only documents the events in Aleppo, but also that it helps to ensure that those responsible for this ruinous situation are brought to justice.
20 September 2016
Syria: Attack on humanitarian convoy is an attack on humanity (ICRC)
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are outraged by last night''s horrific attack on a SARC aid warehouse and an aid convoy in Orem Al Kubra (Big Orem) in rural Aleppo.
Some twenty civilians and one SARC staff member were killed, as they were unloading trucks carrying vital humanitarian aid. Much of the aid was destroyed. The attack deprives thousands of civilians of much-needed food and medical assistance.
"We''re totally devastated by the deaths of so many people. They were committed and brave members, working relentlessly to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. It is totally unacceptable that our staff and volunteers continue to pay such a high price because of the ongoing fighting," said the SARC President, Dr Abdulrahman Attar.
"From what we know of yesterday''s attack, there has been a flagrant violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which is totally unacceptable. Failing to respect and protect humanitarian workers and structures might have serious repercussions on ongoing humanitarian operations in the country, hence depriving millions of people from aid essential to their survival", said Peter Maurer, the ICRC President.
"Today, the Red Cross and Red Crescent is in mourning. In solidarity with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, we are calling on the international community to ensure the protection of humanitarian aid workers and volunteers. We are not part of this conflict," said Tadateru Konoé, the President of the IFRC.
Syria is one of the most dangerous conflicts for humanitarian workers in the world. During the past six years, 54 staff and volunteers of SARC have lost their lives whilst carrying out their duties.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement repeats its demand that all parties to the conflict adhere to the rules of international humanitarian law, which includes protecting aid workers.
Thomas White, Norwegian Refugee Council Syria Response Director said:
"This is an attack against humanity. It is not ''collateral damage'' and there is no excuse for this horrendous targeting of humanitarian aid and aid workers. They were unarmed civilians, humanitarians, putting their lives on the line to help fellow Syrians. It is unbelievable that this could happen to a regular humanitarian convoy, giving detailed information about where the convoy was heading, when, how many trucks and what they were carrying. We are outraged and demand that an immediate and thorough investigation is launched and those behind it are held accountable.
Besides the catastrophic loss of life of our humanitarian colleagues, this means many more Syrians will be denied the lifesaving aid they have been desperately needing for months on end. In a situation in which reaching millions of the most vulnerable people caught in this war was already very difficult – this attack marks a new low in the respect for humanitarian action – in the end making it even harder to deliver lifesaving humanitarian aid.
We call on all parties to the conflict to guarantee safe access for humanitarian aid delivery. Many children are alive today because there was a ceasefire for one week. The US and Russia must renew efforts to re-establish the ceasefire and guarantee its enforcement from all parties on the ground."
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) released a statement stating that it is deeply shocked by the 19 September attack. MSF strongly denounces this attack, another example of the continuous disregard for the basic rules of war in the Syrian conflict, and demands that all warring parties involved in the conflict in Syria respect humanitarian workers and civilians, health facilities and civilian infrastructures.
We demand that the major international powers involved in this conflict assume their responsibilities and take more concrete steps to put an end to all attacks against civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities and aid convoys.
United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien - Statement on Convoy to Urum al-Kubra, Syria. (OCHA)
I am disgusted and horrified by the news that a United Nations/Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy was hit this evening in Urum al-Kubra (Big Orem), northwest of Aleppo city. Initial reports indicate that many people have been killed or seriously injured, including SARC volunteers, as a result of these sickening attacks. A SARC warehouse was also hit and a SARC health clinic was also reportedly severely damaged.
I condemn what happened in Urum al-Kubra in the strongest possible terms. Notification of the convoy – which planned to reach some 78,000 people - had been provided to all parties to the conflict and the convoy was clearly marked as humanitarian. There can be no explanation or excuse, no reason or rationale for waging war on brave and selfless humanitarian workers trying to reach their fellow citizens in desperate need of assistance. Our hearts go out to the families of lost loved ones and our solidarity is with the injured.
International humanitarian law and human rights law plainly set out the basic responsibilities of warring parties to ensure the necessary protection of all humanitarian organizations, including personnel, facilities and other relief assets.
Let me be clear: if this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime. I call for an immediate, impartial and independent investigation into this deadly incident. The perpetrators should know that they will one day be held accountable for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Despite the very difficult and dangerous conditions, humanitarian aid organizations remain committed to continuing their work and reaching all those in need, regardless of whom they are or where they live. I once again call for speedy, unconditional, and unimpeded and sustained access to the millions of people in need, particularly those in besieged and hard-to-reach areas across Syria. Now, more than ever, this horror has to be brought to an end.
The Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, said in a statement that she was horrified by the attack.
“This assault on the humanitarian relief effort in Syria, however, will not discourage WFP from continuing to perform our life-saving service to all people in need across the country,” Ms. Cousin said. “I urge all parties to this hideous conflict to respect international law and our common humanitarian principles and provide unconditional, unimpeded, sustained and safe access to the millions of civilians in need across Syria, no matter where they are or who they are.”
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic also condemned the attacks in the strongest possible terms.
“This attack comes at a critical time in which the unhindered and rapid delivery of aid to besieged areas had been agreed as a vital part of the cessation of hostilities agreement brokered between the United States and Russian Federation early last week. At a time when warring parties were meant to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance, aid deliveries have been deliberately obstructed or attacked,” the Commission said.
Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro noted that the incident is a “particularly cruel blow to deliver to the people of Syria at a time when the priority was supposed to be on improving the humanitarian situation of besieged civilians.”
“Humanitarian aid workers are not a party to this conflict and they should never be targeted or their assistance politicized,” he stressed, calling on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, especially the special protections afforded to humanitarian and medical personnel.
“Attacks against civilians and humanitarian personnel should be discussed urgently by the Security Council,” urged Mr. Pinheiro. “Action is needed to ensure much greater protection of civilian populations and humanitarian workers and medical personnel bravely working to assist those in such urgent need.”
* Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance … mission” is a war crime, as is intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population.
UN Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted on December 18, 2015, called on all parties to the conflict in Syria to “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”
* UNOCHA 2017 Humanitarian Needs in Syria Overview (60 page):

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When the State fails to provide water, fetching water should not be a criminal act
by Léo Heller
Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation
28 February 2017
The United Nations expert on the human rights to water and sanitation raises serious concerns about a recent Bill in Lagos that criminalizes abstraction of water from natural sources.
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, says: “When the State fails to provide adequate access to drinking water, no one should be criminalized or fined for fetching water from lakes, rivers, or any other natural sources.”
The comment from the UN expert comes after the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the Lagos Environment Bill on 20 February 2017. The Bill includes specific provisions that criminalise the abstraction of water from natural sources if conducted without the approval from the authorities.
Mr. Heller said: “The Government is taking a step too far by imposing fines of the equivalent of USD 310 on ordinary individuals fetching water for survival, when the minimum wage stands at approximately USD 60.”
“Legal measures by the Government to regulate access to water are an important step to ensure that drinking water is safe,” said Mr. Heller. However, when only 10 per cent of the population are connected to piped networks and the rest of the population rely on natural water sources for drinking water, a blanket prohibition of accessing natural water sources is not the way forward,” he stressed.
Mr. Heller is urging the Government to reconsider the Bill and to conduct a proper and meaningful public consultation with all relevant stakeholders providing an adequate time for comments and opinions.
Mr. Heller has recently communicated about this matter to the Government. On 4 July 2016, the Special Rapporteur also sent a letter to the Government of Nigeria to request clarification about the water and sanitation situation in Lagos but no response has been received thus far.

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