Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Accountability for Human Rights Violations in Syria

In this post, Gosia Pearson, a research associate with the Centre for Criminology, looks at a recent report on human rights violations in Syria.



Time to read

2 Minutes

Last week on 8 February 2016, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria released the report ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic.’ It’s based on extensive documentary evidence and 621 eyewitness accounts.

The report uncovers how thousands of Syrian civilians have been arbitrarily arrested, unlawfully detained, taken hostage, or kidnapped since the conflict erupted nearly five years ago. It details the frequent and protracted practices of detainees being beating to death or dying as a result of injuries sustained due to torture; of intentionally creating life-threatening and inhumane conditions in prisons; and of depriving them from water, food, and basic medical care. It documents examples of murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, and other inhuman acts.

The report concludes that these actions, in the pursuance of a state policy, amount to extermination as a crime against humanity and constitute war crimes. Whilst condemning all parties to the conflict, the report places the largest onus of responsibility on the Syrian government.

The Commission made a number of recommendations to the Syrian government, anti-government armed groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, and ISIS. But it also called on the Security Council to urgently refer Syria to the International Criminal Court or to other judicial mechanisms and to adopt targeted sanctions against persons or grounds who are credibly suspected of being responsible. It also appealed to the international community to prosecute or extradite persons suspected of war crimes present on their territory.

Once again, the notion of accountability remains high on the agenda of the Commission of Inquiry. The report argues that there can be no military solution to the ongoing conflict but instead there’s a need for a genuine political commitment and action of world leaders to end it. It also underlines that accountability must be part of such political solution. After years of no improvement in peace-making efforts, it’s encouraging that world powers agreed to start talks on a nationwide ‘cessation of hostilities’ in Syria. Still, progress is so far only on paper. Therefore, the Commission of Inquiry―the mandate of which is due for renewal during the upcoming session of the Human Rights Council in March―is still highly relevant in documenting the constantly deteriorating situation in Syria.

Note: All views expressed in this post are solely those of the author.