Syria: Bachelet condemns continued killings and displacements despite ‘ceasefire’

GENEVA (17 January 2020) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet today condemned the continued killing and displacement of civilians in north-western Syria despite the announcement of a ceasefire nearly a week ago.

Bachelet called for the immediate cessation of hostilities in and around the ‘de-escalation’ zone of Idlib, and the protection of all civilians and civilian infrastructure. 

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“Our main concern is for the safety of civilians who remain at serious risk,” said Bachelet. “While the pursuit of a ceasefire is, of course, to be encouraged, this agreement – as with others in the past year – has yet again failed to protect civilians.

“It is deeply distressing that civilians are still being killed on a daily basis in missile strikes from both the air and ground. Women, men and children simply carrying out everyday activities at home, the workplace, in markets and at schools are being killed and maimed in senseless violence.” 

Despite the implementation of the ceasefire on 12 January and the establishment of “safe corridors” by the Government of Syria, civilians continued to be subjected to intensified bombardment as both pro-Government forces and non-State armed groups have continued to fight and press military advantages on the ground, with an apparent disregard for international humanitarian law and the protection of all civilians.

Civilians continued to be killed and seriously injured before, during and after the “ceasefire agreement.” On 11 January, a few hours before the implementation of the ceasefire, military operations in the area intensified and at least 20 civilians were killed in airstrikes that hit several areas in Idlib. OHCHR recorded incidents in which eight civilians were killed in the city of Idlib itself; seven civilians from one family, including a woman and six girls, were killed when their house was hit in the town of Binnish in eastern rural Idlib; and five civilians, including two children, were killed in the village of al-Nairab in eastern rural Idlib.

On 12 January, four civilians were killed and three others, including two children, were wounded in ground-based strikes that hit several residential neighbourhoods in the Government-controlled city of Aleppo. The following day, on 13 January, a civilian was killed when a missile hit his home in the village of al-Dana in rural Maarat An Numan, which is under the control of non-State armed groups.

On 15 and 16 January, the UN Human Rights Office received reports indicating airstrikes had resumed. On 15 January, at least 15 male civilians, including two children, were killed and more than 60 others, including 18 children and four women, were wounded in air raids that hit an industrial area and the al-Hal vegetable market in the city of Idlib. On the same day, another airstrike hit the city of Ariha in southern rural Idlib and injured seven civilians including two women and three boys. The strike also caused some structural damage to a girls’ school.

From the beginning of the escalation of hostilities in the de-escalation zone in Idlib and surrounding areas on 29 April 2019 up to 15 January this year, the UN Human Rights Office has verified incidents in which 1,506 civilians, including 293 women and 433 children, have been killed. Of these, 75 civilians including 17 women and 22 children (five percent of the total), were in areas under the control of Government forces.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the violence and forced to traverse conflict zones. Some have fled to smaller territories in northern Idlib while others have crossed into areas in northern Aleppo that are under the control of Turkey-backed armed groups and where levels of violence in such areas remain high.