Two United Nations human rights experts today urged immediate protection for thousands of civilians caught up in offensives by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in the Aleppo region of northern Syria.
The experts voiced their concern at the prospect of massive new displacement of populations in the region and the targeting of trapped and vulnerable civilians including those already internally displaced and highly vulnerable due to the conflict.
According to the UN in Syria, ISIL has rapidly seized a number of villages and advanced to within two kilometres of Azaz town in recent days, putting at risk those internally displaced living in camps near the Turkish border and other vulnerable communities.
An estimated 9,500 people were also encircled by fighting around Mare’a city as ISIL advanced into areas held by other non-state armed groups on 27 May.
ISIL’s swift takeover of Kiljibrin and Kafr Kalbein left some 6,000 civilians stranded in the two towns and unable to access safety.
“Despite some reported action to clear routes and allow blockaded civilians safe passage, this situation is deteriorating and urgent responses are needed to save lives,” said Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.
“That means ensuring immediate and unhindered passage of all civilians out of the conflict areas and their protection until they are able to return as well as rapid, safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to all those in need,” he stressed.
Mr. Beyani noted that some 165,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain stranded at the Turkish border in settlements hit by shelling and airstrikes which have killed and injured dozens of civilians since the beginning of the year. “If safety cannot be secured for IDPs inside Syria it is incumbent on neighbouring countries to open their borders and offer safe passage as well as the right to seek asylum,” the expert urged.
Humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have evacuated some staff, restricting essential assistance and humanitarian programmes for IDPs and other civilians, including medical care. Hospital staff have been evacuated and at least three humanitarian workers were reportedly critically wounded in areas close to the conflict.
“Unconfirmed yet disturbing reports indicate that ISIL militants have executed families, including women and children, with alleged links to Free Syrian Army affiliated groups in the town of Kiljibrin,” said Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. “If verified any such actions would constitute arbitrary executions and could amount to war crimes.”
The experts noted that IDPs and others in the conflict area are also allegedly being arrested and they face an uncertain fate, suspected of belonging to opposition groups.
Disregard for the rights and the lives of civilians has regrettably become the norm in this conflict, the experts said, stressing that it is imperative for all parties to return to the rule of law and protect civilians as required under international humanitarian and human rights law and standards.
The experts called for the cessation of violence to allow trapped civilians to leave conflict areas as quickly and safely as possible.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.