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UN rights chief: forces fighting Islamic State must protect Syria civilians

[JURIST] Forces fighting Islamic State (IS) [Al Jazeera backgrounder] insurgents to regain lost territory in Syria must not sacrifice lives of civilians still trapped in the areas, UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein [official profile] stated [UN press release] Thursday. Zeid had also previously urged [JURIST report] in May that civilians needed to be protected from airstrikes in Syria. According to Coalition report figures, from August 1 to August 29 the Coalition conducted 1,094 airstrikes on and near Raqqa city. This is a drastic rise from the 645 reported in July. There have been various reports of civilian deaths from many of these airstrikes in August. The High Commissioner professed his concern that the purpose of underlying the defeat of IS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is ultimately the protection and well-being of civilians in the country.

I am extremely concerned that in its conduct of hostilities, the attacking forces may be failing to abide by the international humanitarian law principles of precautions, distinction, and proportionality. Meanwhile ISIL fighters continue to prevent civilians from fleeing the area, although some manage to leave after paying large amounts of money to smugglers. We have reports of smugglers also being publicly executed by ISIL. So as airstrikes bombard Al-Raqqa, some 20,000 civilians are either trapped, or risk their lives to flee and end up confined in makeshift camps in areas controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces under horrendous conditions until prolonged security procedures are completed, with no oversight on how they are treated and screened.
There continues to be reports on forcible conscription of civilians by ISIL, while the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has verified that at least 151 deaths have occurred since August 1.

The war in Syria [JURIST backgrounder] continues to have a devastating impact on the country. Earlier this week UNICEF voiced [JURIST report] its concern that children in war-torn countries, including Syria, have a lack of safe drinking water. Earlier in May the US House of Representatives passed a bill [JURIST report] to impose sanctions on supporters of Syria's Assad regime. The same month Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported new evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in at least four recent attacks [JURIST report] targeting civilians.

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