Small Wars Journal

U.N.: Civilian Deaths Surge in Escalating Syrian Conflicts

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 1:06pm

U.N.: Civilian Deaths Surge in Escalating Syrian Conflicts

Lisa Schlein – Voice of America


GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - U.N. monitors report scores of civilians are being killed and wounded, and thousands are fleeing their homes as violence and human rights abuse escalate in northern and northeastern Syria.   

In just the last five days, at least 92 civilians have been killed in these two separate battles.  The U.N. human rights office reports most of the deaths have occurred in Syria's northeastern Kurdish-controlled area, which is under assault by the Turkish military.  

It says 49 people have been victims of airstrikes, ground-based strikes and summary executions.  These have been carried out by opposing Turkish-affiliated armed groups and Kurdish armed groups.  It says another 31 civilians have been killed by roadside bombs in populated areas, most likely planted by groups opposing the Turkish military offensive.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said the indiscriminate use of such weapons is a violation of international humanitarian law.

"Another issue of concern in this part of the country in the northeast, relates to people recently displaced during the military offensive who have subsequently been subjected to arbitrary detention, in addition to enforced disappearances, after returning to their homes," he said. 

Colville said violations are taking place both in areas controlled by Turkish forces and Kurdish armed groups.  Turning to the northwestern part of Syria, he says there's been a recent upsurge in airstrikes and ground-based strikes in Idlib governorate.  

He said hospitals and health facilities, once again, have come under attack.  This past week, he said Syrian government and allied Russian forces have damaged four medical facilities.  He told VOA it is not clear whether all of the attacks were deliberate.  

"But the large-scale of these attacks, 61 separate facilities, considerably more actual strikes hitting those facilities, given some have been hit three, four times … strongly suggest that government-affiliated forces conducting these strikes are at least partly, if not wholly, deliberately striking health facilities. And, of course, that would amount to a war crime," he said. 

Colville said all warring parties must ensure hospital, medical services and staff are respected and protected in all circumstances.   He adds parties to a conflict are obliged under international law to protect civilians.