Human Rights Council reports: Preparing for accountability’s future in Syria

A meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN/Archive)

A meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN/Archive)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

The International Commission of Inquiry, affiliated with the United Nations Human Rights Council, regarding Syria, continues to prepare reports in which it describes the findings of its members’ investigations in the various areas of geographic control in Syria.

The commission’s reports consistently monitor the violations by the de facto authorities and the Syrian regime, enumerating in each report a series of violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture in prisons, and other practices it says may amount to war crimes.

The commission’s reports are subsequently presented to the UN Human Rights Council but the Syrians have not seen their actual effect on the ground. However, specialists consider this activity to be very important for the future of accountability in Syria.

The latest of these reports was issued by the commission on Monday, March 11, stating that the conflict parties have launched attacks against civilians on multiple fronts and have targeted essential facilities in manners that may rise to the level of war crimes.

It also covered the most significant violations committed by various de facto authorities in Syria.

What is the importance of the commission’s activity?

The International Commission of Inquiry was established in 2011 and immediately began its activity by issuing two annual reports, cataloging the violations carried out by Syrian regime forces and later expanding to include other parties’ violations.

Despite years of this activity, Syrians have not noticed a result that might highlight its importance, but Judge Anwar Majni told Enab Baladi that this commission is the most important step that has occurred in the Syrian human rights case.

He added that the importance of the commission lies in its clear mandate and establishment by a UN body with clear and defined tasks and assignments, alongside the fact that those in charge of this commission are among the most prominent human rights figures in the world, such as the commission’s head, Paulo Pinheiro, according to Majni.

Majni believes that the importance of these reports is twofold, first in identifying the violators and secondly in delineating the Syrian context.

The Syrian judge reiterated the importance of these reports because, in the future, Syrians will differ on how the conflict in Syria happened, why it happened, and what occurred. This sheds light on the necessity of having a neutral party writing the Syrian narrative.

Upon reviewing the International Commission of Inquiry’s reports, one can notice that they not only talk about violations but also refer to the context of events in many of them; therefore, they build a context for the events in Syria as a neutral party, which is “extremely important.”

On the other hand, the commission has very precise standards, as the violations it documents are viewed as being issued by a neutral party firstly and professionally secondly, especially with the skepticism carried by the Syrian parties and local organizations about the neutrality of human rights work due to the fissures that have affected Syrian society over time.

A huge amount of violations

Over 13 years, the commission has managed to compile violations carried out by many parties in Syria, both local and foreign, which Judge Majni described as “a huge amount of violations documented by the commission.” However, the nature of discussing these violations and those responsible for them has changed over time with the emergence of new parties and the intervention of foreign forces in Syria.

He added that the commission’s initial reports were confined to violations perpetrated by Syrian regime forces, but later began to include other parties such as Hezbollah, then the opposition factions.

Majni pointed out that the commission’s modus operandi later shifted to focusing on each area separately, cataloging its violations, as well as owning mechanisms for documenting each authority’s violations. Today, the commission has a team documenting violations by the Syrian National Army (SNA), another for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as well as the Syrian regime and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

In every report the commission issues, it categorizes the violations based on the geographical areas of control for each authority separately, including violations by the SDF alone, and similar for the Syrian National Army, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and the regime.

These reports contain operations of arrest and enforced disappearance committed by all parties in Syria, in addition to targeting civilians, service facilities, and infrastructure in Syria.

No immediate impact, Documentation for the future

The International Commission of Inquiry has not had an immediate impact on the authorities in Syria, whose violations have become almost daily, although the commission is now close to 13 years old, during which it has monitored various types and forms of violations.

While the effect of this activity is hidden from non-specialists, it is seen from a human rights perspective as important for documenting violations, as these reports are a documented and reliable reference for any action that may be taken against parties responsible for the violations, according to the Syrian human rights activist and the director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) organization Bassam al-Ahmad.

Al-Ahmad told Enab Baladi that any party wanting to take a step in Syria must rely on documented information, which is what the International Commission of Inquiry reports provide, especially as it is a UN commission. However, no immediate action will be built upon these reports.

He added that this UN activity does not necessarily aim to harm the de facto authorities in Syria as much as it aims to restore the rights deprived from individuals.

Al-Ahmad considered that while documentation might seem unproductive, especially to the rights-deprived Syrians, in the medium and long term, this documentation will contribute to making a difference in the human rights trajectory.

Judge Anwar Majni considered that the human rights path is led by an accompanying political process, and seeing the results of the International Commission of Inquiry’s activity depends on finding a political solution in Syria, as they will be subject to discussion and may turn into a legal course.

Majni pointed out that the commission shares its reports with the independent and impartial mechanism that contributes to providing the war crimes offices in European countries, meaning these documentations have begun to reach the judiciary in European countries.

He indicated that in the absence of an independent judiciary and without reaching a political transition of power, a Syrian prosecutorial process cannot begin, but just as soon as the opportunity for this pathway becomes available, the reports of the commission will be “an important treasure for achieving justice and holding the violators accountable.”


The information will be documented and available for history, and will prove the violations committed by the parties in Syria, and will not allow violators of rights to be classified as war heroes.

Bassam al-Ahmad, Director of Syrians for Truth and Justice organization


Perpetrators of violations uninterested

The latest report from the International Commission of Inquiry mentioned a series of violations committed in the four areas of control in Syria, where it talked about Hayat Tahrir al-Sham continuing to commit acts amounting to torture, maltreatment and unlawful deprivation of freedom, amid reports of executions based on summary judgments associated with charges including sorcery, adultery, and murder.

The report also pointed out that many women’s organizations have suspended their activities in the region due to threats and the prevention or delay of required permits by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Enab Baladi reached out to Tahrir al-Sham for comment on these accusations but did not receive a response in this context.

In the areas under the control of the Syrian National Army in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo province, acts of torture and maltreatment in many detention facilities continued, according to the report. Some factions of the National Army have continued to confiscate lands and olive crops belonging to landowners.

Enab Baladi also did not receive a response on information about the violations of the National Army factions at the time of publishing this report.


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