GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The seventh UN Syrian Humanitarian Conference opens in Geneva today, February 19, to discouraging news. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria published its latest report Monday, saying that “both pro- and anti-Government forces have become increasingly violent and reckless with human life as the conflict draws to the close of its second year.”
The commission points out that the Syrian government has not yet allowed it to undertake investigations inside Syria, but that “the 445 interviews conducted in this reporting period expose the human cost of a progressively radicalized and militarized conflict.”
The conference in Geneva was opened by host country Switzerland, with Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter noting that of 10 NGOs (non-governmental organizations) ready to supply urgently needed humanitarian aid to Syria, only 3 have received approval and appear to be operating, albeit in a limited way.
OCHA, the UN office for humanitarian aid, which organizes the conference each year, shows that funding is still below 20 percent of the appeals, which have increased sharply as the conflict has deepened.
The ICRC, International Red Cross, cited its operations director, Pierre Krähenbühl who had just returned from a four-day visit, in a statement Saturday: “‘The situation in Syria is after a four-day visit to the country. Civilians are being killed and injured. Millions have been displaced and thousands have gone missing or been arrested.’”
The UN commission, in its report, lists a number of urgent problems:
- “Large parts of Syria are scenes of continuous combat, involving more brutal tactics and new military capabilities on all sides. The war has taken on sectarian overtones, permeated by opportunistic criminality, and aggravated by the presence of foreign fighters and extremist groups.
- A humanitarian disaster has resulted, with tens of thousands killed, and millions internally displaced. According to the latest United Nations figures, over 820,000 Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
- Across Syria, during house searches and at checkpoints, Government forces and affiliated militias have arbitrarily arrested individuals. At these locations – and in official and unofficial detention centres – murder, torture, rape, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts have taken place.
- Defector accounts indicate that no distinction is being made between civilians and fighters.
- A disturbing pattern of aerial attacks targeting hospitals, bakeries and bread lines has emerged. Twelve instances were documented in which Government jets bombarded bread lines, often when hundreds of civilians had queued for bread following a protracted shortage. Such attacks result in considerable civilian deaths and contributed to the dire humanitarian situation of civilians.
- The razing of entire neighbourhoods by Government forces has also been documented.”
The government is not alone in committing what could well be war crimes, the report states. The opposition armed groups:
- [have] “committed murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and hostage-taking, all of which may constitute war crimes.
- Car and suicide bombings, directed at non-military targets, by armed groups spread terror among the civilian population.
- Anti-Government armed groups continue to conduct their operations from within densely populated towns and villages, endangering remaining civilians.
- Children under the age of 15 have actively participated – including as fighters – in hostilities as part of some of the anti-Government armed groups.”