UN rights chief condemns rise in civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta region of Syria

UN rights chief condemns rise in civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta region of Syria

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official profile], Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on Wednesday condemned [press release] the rise in civilian casualties in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria resulting from the recent increase in airstrikes and ground-based attacks by government forces and its allies, highlighting that all parties are “obliged under international law to distinguish between lawful military targets, and civilians and civilian objects.”

Zeid also expressed “grave concern” about the situation of an estimated two million people in the Idlib governorate of Syria where tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced due to increased clashes between government forces and its allies, and the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham alliance of armed opposition groups that controls much of the Idlib area. Many of these civilians were already previously displaced from the Hama and Aleppo governorates.

Airstrikes and ground-based attacks on on Tuesday have reportedly killed at least 13 civilians, including four women, four boys and three girls in a residential area of opposition-controlled Hamourya. Similar strikes in a residential area in the opposition-held town of Duma reportedly killed twelve civilians including five boys and a girl. On 4 January, a rocket fired into Old Damascus hit the vicinity of a bakery killing 14 civilians.

Zeid stated:

The suffering of the people of Syria knows no end. In Eastern Ghouta, where a crippling siege has caused a humanitarian catastrophe, residential areas are being hit day and night by strikes from the ground and from the air, forcing civilians to hide in basements. Armed opposition groups also continue to fire rockets into residential areas in Damascus, causing terror among the population. In Idlib, ground attacks and airstrikes have escalated as a rapidly-moving Government offensive gains momentum, jeopardizing the safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians. … The reports emerging from Eastern Ghouta of civilian casualties as a result of airstrikes suggest that attacking forces may be failing to abide by the international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions, raising concerns that war crimes may have been committed.

Zeid urged the parties to “ensure strict adherence to international law including by ensuring the protection of civilians from the effects of hostilities and to allow unhindered access by humanitarian agencies to provide badly needed aid, in particular to Eastern Ghouta where at least 390,000 civilians have been living under siege for four years.”