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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on Syria

Human Rights Council
Twenty-first session
Agenda item 4
Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

on the Syrian Arab Republic

Summary
The situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic has deteriorated significantly since 15 February 2012. Armed violence increased in intensity and spread to new areas. Active hostilities raged between Government forces (and the Shabbiha) and anti-Government armed groups. Sporadic clashes between the armed actors evolved into continuous combat, involving more brutal tactics and new military capabilities on both sides. The level of armed violence varied throughout the country.
During the reporting period, the commission of inquiry determined that the intensity and duration of the conflict, combined with the increased organizational capabilities of anti-Government armed groups, had met the legal threshold for a non-international armed conflict. The commission therefore applied both international humanitarian law and international human rights law in its assessment of the actions of the parties to the hostilities.
The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces and the Shabbiha had committed the crimes against humanity of murder and of torture, war crimes and gross violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including unlawful killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, indiscriminate attack, pillaging and destruction of property. The commission found that Government forces and Shabbiha members were responsible for the killings in Al-Houla.
The commission confirms its previous finding that violations were committed pursuant to State policy. Large-scale operations conducted in different governorates, their similar modus operandi, their complexity and integrated military-security apparatus indicate the involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the Government. The Shabbiha were identified as perpetrators of many of the crimes described in the present report. Although the nature, composition and hierarchy of the Shabbiha remains unclear, credible information led to the conclusion that they acted in concert with Government forces.
The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture, had been perpetrated by organized anti-Government armed groups. Although not a party to the Geneva Conventions, these groups must abide by the principles of international humanitarian law. The violations and abuses committed by anti-Government armed groups did not reach the gravity, frequency and scale of those committed by Government forces and the Shabbiha.
Both groups violated the rights of children.
The commission is unaware of efforts meeting international standards made by either the Government or anti-Government armed groups to prevent or punish the crimes documented in the present report.
The lack of access significantly hampered the commission’s ability to fulfil its mandate. Its access to Government officials and to members of the armed and security forces was negligible. Importantly, victims and witnesses inside the country could not be interviewed in person.
A confidential list of individuals and units believed to be responsible for crimes against humanity, breaches of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations will be submitted to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the close of the commission’s current mandate, in September 2012.
The commission reiterates that the best solution is a negotiated settlement involving an inclusive and meaningful dialogue among all parties, leading to a political transition that reflects the legitimate aspirations of all segments of Syrian society, including ethnic and religious minorities.


I.    Introduction
1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 19/22 of 23 March 2012, in which the Council extended the mandate of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic established by the Council in its resolution S-17/1 of 22 August 2011.
2. In the present report, the commission[1] sets out its findings based on investigations conducted up until 20 July 2012. The report builds upon the commission’s periodic updates released on 16 April and 24 May 2012, as well as the oral update presented by the commission to the Human Rights Council on 27 June 2012 (A/HRC/20/CRP.1). It also updates the findings of the commission’s special inquiry into the events in Al-Houla, mandated by the Council in its resolution S-19/1 of 1 June 2012.
3. The present report should be read in conjunction with the commission’s previous reports (A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1 and A/HRC/19/69) with regard to the interpretation of its mandate and working methods, as well as its factual and legal findings concerning the events in the Syrian Arab Republic between March 2011 and 15 February 2012.
                   A.     Challenges
4. The commission faced a number of challenges. It was given a broad mandate — geographically, temporally and materially — to investigate all allegations of human rights violations committed in the country since March 2011. This meant conducting investigations in the context of a rapidly changing situation, which evolved into armed conflict.
5. Lack of physical access to the country also significantly hampered the commission’s ability to fulfil its mandate. In particular, its access to Government officials and to members of the armed and security forces was negligible. Importantly, victims and witnesses inside the country, especially those allegedly abused by anti-Government armed groups, could not be interviewed in person.
6. The commission filed repeated requests to visit the country, including through notes verbales and letters dated 2 and 16 April, 1, 10 and 29 May, and 22 June 2012 (annex I), and meetings with the Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic in Geneva on 26 and 30 April and 18 and 21 June 2012. These efforts enabled the Chairperson to visit Damascus from 23 to 25 June to discuss with the authorities the commission’s work, including the Al-Houla investigation. Details of the visit were reported by the commission in its oral update (A/HRC/20/CRP.1). The Government has yet to allow for in situ investigation by the commission.
7. During the commission’s mandate, the Government shared a number of documents, including reports of investigations conducted by national authorities, as well as lists of casualties. Such information is reflected in the present report, where relevant.
                   B.     Methodology
8. The commission sought to adapt its methodology in view of the above challenges. While continuing efforts to reflect violations and abuses of human rights, irrespective of the alleged perpetrator, the commission focused on the most serious allegations. It was mindful of the protection of victims and witnesses, concerns that lie at the heart of the methodology of human rights investigations.
9. Owing to the lack of access to the Syrian Arab Republic, the commission continued to deploy to the region to collect first-hand accounts from those who had left the country. Starting on 15 February, the commission conducted 693 interviews in the field and from Geneva, including by Skype and telephone with victims and witnesses inside the country. This brought the total number of interviews conducted by the commission to 1,062 since its establishment in September 2011.
10. The commission also examined photographs, video recordings, satellite imagery and additional material, such as forensic and medical records. It continued to review reports from Government and non-governmental (both international and Syrian opposition) sources, academic analyses, media accounts (including Syrian news outlets), as well as United Nations reports, including from human rights bodies and mechanisms.
11. The commission applied the standard of proof used in previous reports, namely “reasonable grounds to believe”. The commission relied mainly on first-hand accounts to corroborate incidents.
12. In its previous reports, the commission did not apply international humanitarian law. During the present reporting period, the commission determined that the intensity and duration of the conflict, combined with the increased organizational capabilities of anti-Government armed groups, had met the legal threshold for a non-international armed conflict. With this determination, the commission applied international humanitarian law in its assessment of the actions of the parties during hostilities. (See also annex II.)
13. The commission continued its engagement with representatives of Member States, United Nations bodies and other international and regional organizations. The commission is grateful to all those who cooperated with it in the fulfilment of its mandate, first and foremost the victims of and witnesses to human rights violations and abuses.

II.    Context
                   A.     Political background
14. Efforts to find a solution to the crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic continued throughout the reporting period. The Government launched several political and governance reforms, while the United Nations and the League of Arab States appointed a joint special envoy, Kofi Annan, on 23 February 2012. These efforts brought little progress, given the escalating violence and the significant deterioration in the situation on the ground.
15. The reform initiatives included a referendum on a new Constitution, held on 26 February 2012, parliamentary elections, held on 7 May, and the appointment of a new Government, on 23 June. These events were opportunities for introducing political pluralism and a democratic political process. They were not, however, viewed as inclusive enough to satisfy the growing dissident movement within the country or the exiled opposition.
16. President Bashar Al Assad did not succeed in engaging the opposition in a meaningful dialogue. The elections were boycotted by the opposition, and their outcome preserved the supremacy of the Baath party in Parliament as well as in the new Government, thus failing to bring emerging political forces into governance institutions. This development further antagonized segments of the population and opposition groups.
17. The efforts of the international community channelled through the joint special envoy resulted in the presentation of a six-point plan on 10 March 2012. The plan outlined steps to bring about a cessation of violence by all parties and a commitment to a political process. The ceasefire came into effect on 12 April, followed by the deployment by the Security Council of the United Nations Supervision Mission in the Syrian Arab Republic (UNSMIS) on 21 April for an initial period of 90 days to monitor the plan’s implementation. The arrival of UNSMIS observers had an initial positive impact on the ground, and levels of violence decreased in April. Thereafter, however, military operations intensified to such a level that, by 15 June, UNSMIS had to suspend its activities temporarily. On 20 July, the mandate of UNSMIS was extended for a final period of 30 days. Further renewal was conditional on the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in violence by all sides.
18. Opposition groups represented in the Syrian National Council refused to engage with President Assad, calling for him to leave power. Both the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) accepted the six-point plan, including the ceasefire. In March, an agreement was signed by the Council and the FSA to cooperate on channelling funds to the FSA via a liaison office within the Council; it was not implemented, however, and each group continued to operate independently.
19. Positions varied in the international community on how to deal with the conflict. Some States demanded the immediate departure of the President; others focused on preventing any form of outside intervention. Others continued to provide military supplies to the Government. Still others called for funding, and provided communication and material support to anti-Government armed groups. The alleged presence of foreign advisers was also a point of contention among States, as was the use of sanctions. The uncertain international context undermined the efforts of the joint special envoy to achieve a political solution to the conflict.
20. On 30 June 2012, the joint special envoy convened a meeting of an action group consisting of the United Nations, the League of Arab States and the European Union, as well as countries with an influence over the parties to the conflict, including the five Permanent Members of the Security Council. In a communiqué, the Action Group renewed a commitment to the six-point plan and set out principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition. Opposition groups criticized the proposed transition for leaving the door open for President Assad to be part of a transitional Government. In a meeting held in Cairo on 2 and 3 July under the auspices of the League of Arab States, the Syrian opposition issued a common vision of a political transition and a national pact establishing justice, democracy and pluralism as the constitutional foundations of the future Syria. However, they were unable to agree on the election of a body that would represent them at the international level.
                   B.     Military situation[2]
21. During the reporting period, the security situation deteriorated significantly, with armed violence increasing in intensity and spreading to new areas. Active hostilities increased between Government forces (and pro-Government militia) and anti-Government armed groups. Sporadic clashes between the armed actors evolved into continuous combat, involving more brutal tactics and new military capabilities on both sides. Levels of armed violence varied throughout the country.
22. The Government increasingly deployed its troops and heavy equipment in operations against areas perceived to be supporting opposition groups. All army divisions and security services engaged in military operations. Typically, such operations began with the cordoning off of a targeted area with checkpoints, then shelling as a prelude to incursions by ground forces to dislodge insurgents and their supporters. Shelling was also used in the context of direct clashes and in operations to quell demonstrations. Air assets also fired on fighters and unarmed demonstrators in localities under the influence of armed groups.
23. Government forces directed their main efforts towards the control of major cities such as Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama. Attacks on areas allegedly infiltrated by anti-Government armed groups had the unintended effect of increasing the support of local populations for those groups. During many operations, large numbers of fighters and civilians were killed.
24. Pro-Government militia, including Shabbiha, reportedly acted alongside Government forces in security and military operations. Their precise nature, strength and relationship with the Government remains unclear.
25. The army faced increased attrition in personnel and equipment owing to combat operations, defections and casualties. Defections affected the troops psychologically, fuelling a crisis of confidence within the ranks and encouraging further defections. The Government also had difficulties in drafting new recruits, as many of those called up for mandatory military service refused to report.
26. Anti-Government armed groups expanded their activities throughout the country, clashing with Government forces on multiple fronts simultaneously. At the time of writing, they were involved in sustained armed confrontations inside the capital, while establishing sanctuaries throughout the rest of the country. Accounts indicated that there were foreign fighters in the ranks of some armed groups.
27. The FSA took measures to address the apparent deficiencies in its overall effective command structure. In some governorates, the FSA created local military councils that claimed leadership over groups fighting in those areas. Many groups claimed affiliation with the FSA, while other groups are emerging without a pronounced affiliation with it.
28. Anti-Government armed groups engaged with the Government forces through direct clashes, ambushes and raids. While investigations did not confirm the use of more sophisticated weaponry by anti-Government armed groups, their access to and capacity to effectively use available weapons improved. They appeared to have access to increased funding and logistical support.
29. The commission noted the increased and effective use of improvised explosive devices against the convoys, patrols and facilities of Government forces. They were also used to target members of military and security forces and Government officials.
30. Several radical Islamic armed groups have emerged in the country. The most important is the Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, a group allegedly linked with Al-Qaida, which claimed responsibility for several attacks, including suicide bombings against Government forces and senior officials.
31. There are also self-defence groups in several localities. Some of these groups emerged in villages populated by allegedly pro-Government minorities.
                   C.     Socioeconomic and humanitarian situation
32. The crisis precipitated a rapid decline in the State’s economy. It has exacerbated pre-existing levels of poverty and unemployment driven by a decade-long drought in rural agricultural areas, which led to the displacement of farmers to cities, and growing resentment against those who were, or appeared to be, enjoying the economic benefits distributed by the Government. According to the International Monetary Fund, the economy of the Syrian Arab Republic will contract significantly in 2012, primarily because of sanctions. The sharp drop in economic growth has been accompanied by alarming indicators, such as the devaluation of the Syrian pound, which has lost 30 per cent of its value since the onset of events, and inflation that soared to over 50 per cent.[3]
33. The militarization of the conflict deepened the humanitarian crisis. Thousands of Syrians have been internally displaced or have fled to neighboring countries. At the time of writing, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 1.5 million people had been internally displaced. The Syrian population is increasingly turning to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the World Food Programme and other organizations for help.[4] By July, there were 114,208 Syrians registered as refugees, receiving assistance in four neighbouring countries (42,682 in Turkey, 34,050 in Jordan, 29,986 in Lebanon and 7,490 in Iraq).[5] Refugees inside the Syrian Arab Republic, including some 500,000 Palestinians and more than 103,000 registered Iraqi refugees,[6] are also affected by the situation. UNCHR reported that more than 13,000 Iraqi refugees left the Syrian Arab Republic in the first half of 2012, most returning to Iraq.[7]
34. On 16 July, the commission received information from the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic stating that it had been subjected “to more than 60 packages of illegal unilateral coercive sanctions by the United States of America, the European Union, the League of Arab States, Turkey, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Japan and others”. In the Government’s view, these sanctions, which target economic, financial and agricultural life in the country, amount to collective punishment against the Syrian people. The Government particularly deplored the sanctions imposed on the import of oil products, including domestic gas and fuel oil, which severely affected the livelihood of ordinary Syrians. The negative consequences of sanctions, including those on public and private banking systems, oil exports and the import of medical supplies, were also denounced.
35. Accounts from interviewees demonstrated that entire communities are suffering from a lack of food, fuel, water, electricity and medical supplies. Shortages are especially acute in areas such as Homs, Idlib, Dar’a and Hama. People forced by the hostilities to leave their homes are in urgent need of shelter. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the number of people in urgent need of assistance has risen sharply, from an estimated 1 to 1.5 million people,[8] and continues to rise steadily.
36. The fourth meeting of the Syrian Humanitarian Forum, held on 16 July 2012, concluded that the deteriorating humanitarian situation was a matter of grave concern to the international community. The security situation has hindered the capacity of aid workers to assist the population in need. The two humanitarian assistance appeals for refugees in neighboring countries and the internally displaced persons and others in need inside the Syrian Arab Republic are only funded to 20 per cent.[9]

III.    Findings
37. While the commission focused on most serious violations of human rights, it wishes to note the overall deteriorating human rights situation. In addition to the right to life and the right to liberty and personal security, other fundamental human rights continue to be violated. Increased violence has further restricted the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which had initially sparked the March 2011 uprising. The Syrian population is generally deprived of basic economic, social and cultural rights. As it noted in previous reports, the commission remains gravely concerned at the prevailing climate of impunity for violations of human rights law.
                   A.     Casualties
38. Information provided by the Government indicates that, as at 9 July 2012, 7,928 people, including Government forces and civilians, had been killed as a result of the unrest.
39. Other entities, in particular Syrian non-governmental organizations and opposition groups, including local coordinating committees, the Centre for Documentation of Violations in Syria, the Syrian Network for Human Rights and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, are also counting casualties by employing a variety of methods. The numbers they report range from 17,000 to 22,000. The commission was unable to confirm these figures.
40. The commission recorded numerous casualties resulting from incidents across the country. It reports the deaths only of those persons about which it has first-hand information through interviews conducted by its investigators. In the commission’s figures, no distinction is made between civilians and fighters. Injured persons are not included. The commission, through interviews of victims and witnesses of events from 15 February to 20 July, confirmed 840 deaths.
                   B.      Special inquiry into Al-Houla
41. The commission delivered its preliminary findings (A/HRC/20/CRP.1) to the Human Rights Council on 27 June 2012, based on evidence gathered up until 22 June. In its report, the commission concluded that the Government was responsible for the deaths of civilians as a result of shelling the Al-Houla area and, particularly, Taldou village. It also found that the Government’s investigation fell short of international human rights standards. With regard to the deliberate killing of civilians, the commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators. Nevertheless, it considered that forces loyal to the Government were likely to have been responsible for many of the deaths.
42. Access to the country was not granted despite specific requests addressed to the Government in a note verbale dated 4 June 2012 (annex I) and in person by the chairperson during his visit to Damascus on 24 and 25 June. The Government has not delivered a final report on its own inquiry, nor has it indicated when the report might be forthcoming.
43. The commission conducted eight additional interviews, including with six witnesses from the Taldou area, two of whom were survivors. It examined other materials, including video recordings and satellite imagery. It also reviewed analyses from other sources.
44. Forty-seven interviews from various sources were considered by the commission. Interviews were consistent in their depiction of events and their description of the perpetrators as Government forces and Shabbiha. Apart from the two witnesses in the Government report, no other account supported the Government’s version of events. The commission carefully reviewed the two witnesses’ testimony as set out in that report, and judged their accounts as unreliable owing to a number of inconsistencies (see also annex IV). Accounts of other witnesses interviewed by different investigators remained consistent, including those collected from children, despite the fact that they were conducted over an extended period of time.
45. In its oral update to the Human Rights Council, the commission determined that anti-Government armed groups, Government forces and Shabbiha could have had access to the two crime scenes: the first, the seven Abdulrazzak family homes on Saad Road (Tariq Al-Sad) and the second, the two Al-Sayed family homes on Main Street (Al-Shar’i Al-Raisi), across from the National Hospital.[10] The commission has since determined that the checkpoint at Al-Qaws, which is closest to the Al-Sayed house on Main Street, remained in Government control on the day of the incident. The front line between the opposition and Government forces was north of the checkpoint. The commission, therefore, concluded that it was highly unlikely that an anti-Government armed group would have had access to the Al-Sayed family house on the day of the killings.
46. Regarding the Abdulrazzak site, where more than 60 people were killed, the commission considered that a large number of perpetrators would have been required to carry out the crime. The commission found, through satellite imagery and corroborated accounts, that the movement of vehicles or weapons, as well as the size of the group, would have been easily detectable by Government forces stationed at the Water Authority position. The commission therefore believes that access to the scene was not possible for any sizeable anti-Government armed group.
47. The National Hospital had been occupied by the army for several months when the incidents took place. Although it was accessible by foot from both crime scenes, no one — whether injured or fleeing the crime scenes — sought refuge there for treatment or protection. As far as the commission could determine, all the injured and their relatives, as well as people from nearby houses, fled to opposition-controlled areas. None of the injured sought medical attention in the National Hospital. The Government report depicted the loyalties of the Al-Sayed family as pro-Government, but surviving family members fled to opposition-controlled areas of Taldou, choosing not to seek assistance from nearby Government forces.
48. The commission remains of the view that the Government has failed in its legal obligation to investigate the murders in Al-Houla of 25 May 2012.
49. On the basis of available evidence, the commission concluded that the elements of the war crime of murder have been met. The killing of multiple civilians, including women and children, was deliberate and connected to the ongoing armed conflict. There are reasonable grounds to believe that the perpetrators of the crime, at both the Abdulrazzak and Al-Sayed family locations, were Government forces and Shabbiha members.
50. There are also reasonable grounds to believe that these acts were part of a series of attacks directed against civilians, and as such, formed part of the conclusion (see section C below) that crimes against humanity were perpetrated by the Government and Shabbiha.
                   C.     Unlawful killing[11]
51. Cases of attacks on civilians, murder and extrajudicial executions rose sharply during the reporting period. The commission conducted some 300 interviews as it investigated incidents alleging the unlawful killing of civilians and hors de combat fighters. The incidents that occurred in the contexts described below were corroborated by multiple accounts.[12] While both parties to the conflict perpetrated unlawful killings, the gravity, frequency and scale of the violations committed by Government forces and Shabbiha was, according to information available, well in excess of those committed by anti-Government armed groups.
                   1.     Government forces and Shabbiha
52. Most unlawful killings occurred in the context of attacks against the strongholds of anti-Government armed groups. According to the most prominent pattern, attacks began with a blockade of the area and shelling,[13] followed by an assault by ground forces, including special forces and Shabbiha. Snipers were used extensively.[14] On securing the area, Government forces undertook house-to-house searches. Defectors, activists and fighting-age men were systematically sought out during these operations. Wounded or captured anti-Government fighters were executed. In some cases, family members of fighters, defectors and activists, as well as others who appeared to have been randomly selected, were also executed.
53. This pattern was recorded in, inter alia, Tremseh, Al Qubeir, Al-Houla, Kili, Tal Rifat, Taftanaz, Sarmin, Ain Larouz, Atarib, Abdita, Homs and Al Qusayr.
54. Excessive force continued to be used against demonstrators exercising their right to peaceful protest in Al Qamishli in March, and in Damascus, Aleppo and Jabal Al Zawiya in April.
55. The commission finds that the cases of unlawful killing described in the present report provide reasonable grounds to believe that the Government forces and Shabbiha violated provisions of international human rights law protecting the right to life. Furthermore, many of the same killings met the elements of the war crime of murder under international criminal law.[15]
56. Attacks were frequently directed against civilians and civilian objects. Although the Government’s stated aim was to attack “terrorists”, the attacks were directed at neighbourhoods, towns and regions with civilian populations (see annex VI). The commission therefore concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crime of attacking civilians was perpetrated in many instances.
57. There are also reasonable grounds to believe that the documented incidents constituted the crime against humanity of murder. In towns and villages where there was a pattern of blockade, shelling, ground assault and house-to-house searches, the conditions for a widespread or systematic attack against a predominately civilian population were met. The scale of the attacks, their repetitive nature, the level of excessive force consistently used, the indiscriminate nature of the shelling and the coordinated nature of the attacks led the commission to conclude that they had been conducted pursuant to State policy.
                   2.     Anti-Government armed groups
58. Despite its limited access to victims of anti-Government armed groups, the commission was able to document cases of killing by anti-Government fighters of captured Government soldiers, Shabbiha and informers who admitted taking part in military attacks (see annex V). While the human rights legal regime differs with regard to such non-State actors as anti-Government armed groups, international humanitarian law applies equally to all parties to a conflict.
59. The commission considered corroborated evidence of killing hors de combat soldiers and Shabbiha. In Al Qusayr, Bab Amr, Qaldiya and elsewhere, the commission noted that persons captured by anti-Government armed groups on occasion faced a quasi-judicial process prior to their execution. A consistent account of the trial process has not been forthcoming, nor has information on the extent of adherence to fair trial standards. Executing a prisoner without affording fundamental judicial guarantees is a war crime.
60. The commission concluded that information on executions perpetrated by anti-Government armed groups — with or without a “trial” — constituted reasonable grounds to believe that the war crimes of murder or of sentencing or execution without due process had been committed on several occasions. The commission was not able to corroborate alleged attacks directed against individual civilians not participating in hostilities or against a civilian population.
                   3.     Unknown perpetrators
61. The commission found that scores of civilians had been killed in nine explosions between March and July by unknown perpetrators.[16] The explosions appeared to have been caused by suicide bombers or by improvised explosive devices, including vehicle-borne ones.
62. While the above-mentioned acts may be linked to non-international armed conflict and thus assessed under international humanitarian law, lack of access to the crime scenes combined with an absence of information on the perpetrators hampered the commission’s ability to make such an assessment. These are nevertheless domestic crimes prosecutable under the Syrian criminal code. The Government is obliged to ensure that an investigation is conducted impartially, promptly, effectively and independently, in accordance with its international human rights obligations.
                   D.     Arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance[17]
63. The commission interviewed 25 people who alleged to have been arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained. A further five interviews were conducted with defectors claiming to have observed arbitrary arrests and detentions while in active service.
64. According to the Government, more than 10,000 people have been released since February 2011, pursuant to 4 amnesties, including 275 people released on 10 July 2012. In his report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2043 (2012) (S/2012/523), the Secretary-General noted that UNSMIS had observed the release of 468 detainees in Dar’a, Damascus, Hama, Idlib and Deir el-Zour on 31 May and 14 June 2012.
65. Official statistics on the number of detainees and detention centres have yet to be provided by the Government. As at 25 June, UNSMIS had received and cross-checked information on 2,185 detainees and 97 places of detention across the country. Syrian non-governmental organizations put the number of those currently detained as high as 26,000. The commission was unable to confirm the number of those arrested and detained.
66. Most arrests were made in four situations: those believed to be planning to defect or who had refused to follow orders (usually to open fire on civilians); during house searches; at checkpoints; and protesters, either at or subsequent to protests. In a few cases, people were arrested randomly in areas where there were no active hostilities. Four of those so reported were women. Two were children, a boy of 14 and a girl of 9.
67. No interviewee was offered or received legal counsel. With one exception, no interviewee received a family visit. Only two interviewees, arrested on suspicion of planning to defect, were formally charged with an offence.
68. Many claimed that, prior to release, they were made to sign or thumbprint a document, the contents of which were unknown to them. Three detainees were brought before a judge and then released. In one unverified incident, the interviewee stated that, although the judge had ordered his release, he had remained in detention for another 3 months. Also interviewed was a former judge who stated that security agents prohibited questioning unless they were present and, on one occasion, held the judge at gunpoint.
69. The duration of detention of interviewees ranged from a few hours to 5 months. Most of those interviewed were held for 60 days or fewer.
70. The commission considers that domestic legislation in the Syrian Arab Republic (see annex II) fails to meet its obligations under article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure that those arrested and detained on criminal charges appear “promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power”.
71. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals. Of particular concern are the detention of individuals without charge, the failure to provide detainees with legal counsel or family visits and the absence in most cases of any form of judicial review.
72. Regarding enforced disappearance, families of those arrested were not informed at the time of arrest or at any point thereafter of the place of detention of their relatives. In most cases, families were unaware of their relatives’ place of detention.
73. Where the Government refuses to acknowledge the arrest and detention or to disclose the fate of the person concerned, the crime of enforced disappearance has been committed.
                   E.     Torture and other forms of ill-treatment[18]
                   1.     Government forces and Shabbiha
74. Starting on 15 February 2012, the commission interviewed 81 people regarding allegations of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Fifty-nine interviews concerned events within the reporting period. The commission was unable to visit detention centres to interview detainees or to observe detention conditions.
75. Thirty of the above-mentioned 59 stated that they had been arrested and/or detained by Government forces or Shabbiha. All but one reported suffering physical violence during detention. Nineteen other interviewees reported witnessing detainees being tortured or ill-treated; this included 10 individuals who had worked in detention centres or at checkpoints before defecting. Where possible, the commission observed the wounds or scars of alleged victims.
76. While most had been held in official detention centres, six stated that they had been detained in unofficial facilities, such as civilian houses, prior to being transferred to an official centre. In unofficial centres, interviewees reported abuse by soldiers and Shabbiha. A further nine interviewees stated that they had been beaten or assaulted during house searches or at checkpoints, or had witnessed the assault of others. None of the nine was subsequently detained.
77. Reported methods of torture were consistent across the country. Interviewees described being severely beaten about the head and body with electric cables, whips, metal and wooden sticks and rifle butts, burned with cigarettes, kicked, or subjected to electric shocks applied to sensitive parts of the body, including the genitals. Six interviewees reported having lost consciousness during interrogation.
78. Multiple reports were received about detainees being beaten on the soles of the feet (falaqa). Common practices included keeping detainees in prolonged stress positions, including hanging from walls or ceilings by their wrists (shabeh) or hanging by their wrists tied behind their backs. Other methods comprised forcing detainees to bend over and put their head, neck and legs through a tyre while beatings were administered (dulab); and tying detainees to a board with their head unsupported and either stretching them or folding the board in half. Some detainees were subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence.[19] On many interviewees, scars and wounds consistent with their accounts were visible.
79. Several forms of torture and ill-treatment meted out did not result in physical evidence. Detainees were forcibly shaved, made to imitate dogs and declare that “there is no God but Bashar”. Other interviewees stated that they were forced to undress and remain naked for prolonged periods. Three interviewees stated that they were threatened with execution. One reported being present when another detainee was threatened with sexual assault; another stated that interrogators threatened to arrest and rape female relatives.
80. Six interviewees were moved to multiple detention facilities, among different intelligence agencies. One interviewee reported having been moved to 10 different centres across four governorates in five months. Another interviewee was transferred to four different locations in Dar’a and Damascus, again during five months. Where there were multiple transfers, interviewees suffered physical violence in each location.
81. The majority of detainees described being held in small, overcrowded cells. Two interviewees reported that cells were so overcrowded that it was impossible to sit or lie down. All but one reported that food and water were inadequate. One interviewee stated that, having been without water for a week, he had to drink his own urine. Several interviewees stated that their cells had no toilet. Four interviewees described cells infested with insects and lice. The commission was unable to corroborate reports of the denial of medication and medical treatment.
82. The commission recorded accounts that, if verified, would amount to a breach of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (see annex II).
83. The commission confirms its previous finding that torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were committed by Government forces and Shabbiha, in violation of the State’s obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
84. The commission determined that severe pain was inflicted upon persons in official and unofficial detention centres, during house searches and at checkpoints. It also found that torture was inflicted to punish, to humiliate or to extract information. Much of the physical violence described by interviewees has been found to constitute torture by various international tribunals (see annex II).
85. The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that torture was perpetrated as part of a widespread attack directed against civilians by Government forces and Shabbiha who had knowledge of the attack. It concludes that torture as a crime against humanity and as a war crime was committed by Government forces and Shabbiha members. Members of security forces, in particular military and air force intelligence, appear to be primarily responsible for torture and ill-treatment. The commission noted the involvement of Shabbiha members in acts of torture in unofficial detention centres in Homs in February and March.
86. The commission found that conduct such as forcibly shaving detainees and forcing them to imitate dogs constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Similarly, the conditions of detention as described in interviews constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees.
                   2.     Anti-Government armed groups
87. Fifteen interviews were conducted about the treatment of members of Government forces and Shabbiha members by anti-Government armed groups. All interviewees claimed to be members of these armed groups and detailed the capture, interrogation and either release or execution of those detained. Three interviewees stated that captured Government fighters and Shabbiha members were tortured during interrogation prior to execution.
88. The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that torture and other forms of ill-treatment were committed by anti-Government armed groups during interrogation of captured members of Government forces and the Shabbiha. It determines that severe pain was inflicted to punish, to humiliate or to extract information.
89. The commission determines, however, that the acts of torture were not committed as part of either a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population; therefore, they do not constitute crimes against humanity, but may be prosecutable as war crimes.
                   F.     Indiscriminate attacks
90. To comply with international humanitarian law, those ordering and carrying out attacks must ensure that they distinguish between civilian and military targets.[20] Accounts indicated that Government forces on occasion directed shelling to target small opposition strongholds. In many attacks, however, those firing projectiles did not distinguish between civilian and military targets. In most of the cases investigated, shelling preceded an assault by ground forces; it was also used against demonstrations. In some cases, it was used against anti-Government armed groups where the military was unwilling to risk equipment and troops.
91. Most deaths in Bab Amr during the military operation that began in February 2012 were caused by extensive and indiscriminate shelling by Government forces of primarily civilian infrastructure and residential areas. The city of Al Qusayr suffered indiscriminate attacks between February and May; one credible source told the commission, “I witnessed what people call indiscriminate shelling – the Syrian army just spreads mortar fire across an entire neighbourhood.” On 5 June, Government forces began an assault on Al Haffe by cordoning off the town and then shelling with tanks, mortars and helicopter gunships.
92. Additional corroborated accounts of indiscriminate shelling were recorded in Atarib, on 14 February; Ain Larouz, on 5 March; Sermin, on 22 March; Taftanaz, on 4 April; Kili, on 6 April; Al-Houla, on 25 May, and 12 and 13 June; Akko, on 9 June; Salma, on 11 June; and Jobar, on various dates in late June.
93. The commission took note of video evidence from Hama governorate in July indicating the use of cluster munitions. The material could not be corroborated. Although the Syrian Arab Republic is not a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the commission notes that such weapons are inherently indiscriminate when employed in residential areas or areas frequented by civilians.
94. On the basis of its findings, the commission determined that the legal threshold for an indiscriminate attack as a violation of customary international humanitarian law was reached. Government forces fired shells into areas inhabited by civilians while failing to direct them at a specific military objective.
95. Moreover, the attacks, especially shelling, caused incidental loss of civilian life and injury to civilians, as well as damage to civilian objects. There are reasonable grounds to believe that the damage was excessive when compared to the anticipated military advantage.
                   G.     Sexual violence[21]
96. Forty-three interviews were conducted on incidents of sexual violence, against men, women and children, committed by Government forces and the Shabbiha since February 2012. Interviewees included two female and three male victims of rape. Also interviewed were five eyewitnesses of rape, three of whom were also victims. Seven interviewees were defectors who stated that rape and sexual assault had been committed by soldiers and the Shabbiha.
97. There were difficulties in collecting evidence of sexual violence owing to cultural, social and religious beliefs surrounding marriage and sexuality.
98. Accounts indicated that rape and other forms of sexual violence had been committed in two circumstances. The first was during house searches and at checkpoints by Government forces and Shabbiha; the second, in detention. In addition, in Homs, between late February and April, there were several reports of abduction and rape of women, and corroborated accounts of women forced to walk naked in the streets of Karm-Al Zeitoun in February.
99. Fifteen interviewees described incidents of sexual violence committed during house searches and at checkpoints during military operations in Homs between February and May, and in Al Haffe in June. Five interviewees detailed incidents of sexual violence in Zabadani in late February and in various locations in Hama governorate in April. The attacks were reportedly perpetrated by soldiers and Shabbiha.
100. The commission continued to receive reports of rape and sexual assault in detention centres, committed usually as part of torture and/or ill-treatment. Multiple reports were received of male detainees receiving electric shocks to their genitals during interrogations.
101. The commission finds reasonable grounds to believe rape and sexual assault were perpetrated against men, women and children by Government forces and Shabbiha members. Rape and sexual assault were also part of torture in official and unofficial detention centres.
102. Having previously determined that military operations such as those in Homs in February and March and in Al Haffe in June were part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, the commission finds that the rapes committed during these attacks, made with knowledge of the attacks, could be prosecuted as crimes against humanity.
                   H.     Violations of children’s rights[22]
103. The commission conducted 168 interviews concerning alleged violations of children’s rights. Of these, 30 interviewees were under the age of 18. In interviews, the adverse psychological and social impact of the violence on children was evident.
                   1.     Government forces and Shabbiha
104. The commission recorded the killing of 125 children, mainly boys, after 15 February 2012.
105. Children were killed and injured during the shelling of towns and villages. During a visit to a hospital in Turkey, the commission saw a 2-year-old girl, severely injured in the June shelling of Azaz. There were also multiple reports of children killed and wounded by snipers.
106. Children were also killed during attacks on protests, such as the attack in Menaq village on 15 March, and in attacks on villages believed to be harbouring defectors or anti-Government armed groups. There were multiple accounts of children killed during military ground operations and house searches (see annex V). Forty-one children were among those killed in Al-Houla on 25 May. Some were killed during shelling, but most appeared to have been shot at close range.
107. There were reports of the arbitrary arrest and detention of children. Children described having been beaten, whipped with electrical cables, burned with cigarettes and subjected to electrical shocks to the genitals. There were multiple reports of detained minors held in the same cells as adults.
108. The commission received reports of the rape and sexual assault of girls under the age of 18 (see annex VII).
109. No evidence of Government forces formally conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 18 was received. However, three incidents were documented in which Government forces used children as hostages or as human shields.
110. Schools in various locations across the Syrian Arab Republic were looted, vandalized and burned in response to student protests. Various accounts described their use by Government forces and Shabbiha members as military staging grounds, temporary bases and sniper posts (see paragraphs 116–125 below).
111. Reports also indicated that injured people, including children, feared to seek medical treatment at public hospitals. Many children were brought to field clinics that could treat only minor injuries.
112. Evidence gathered indicated that children’s rights continue to be violated by Government forces and the Shabbiha. The legal conclusions reached in annexes IV, V, VII, VIII and IX apply.
113. The detention of adults and children together is in breach of the Government’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, unless a separation breaches the right of families to be housed together.
                   2.     Anti-Government armed groups
114. Eleven interviewees, including four minors, discussed the use of children by anti-Government armed groups. All stated that anti-Government armed groups, including the FSA, used children in support roles, such as assisting medical evacuations or as couriers. Five interviewees stated that the anti-Government armed groups used children under the age of 18 — and in one account, under 15 — as fighters.
115. The commission considers that there is currently insufficient information to find that anti-Government armed groups used children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities. It notes with concern, however, the reports that children under 18 are fighting and performing auxiliary roles for anti-Government armed groups.
                   I.     Attacks on protected persons and objects
116. The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has generated thousands of casualties. Hospitals and clinics have been caught up in hostilities. Field clinics have been deliberately targeted. Civilian objects, such as schools, municipal buildings and hospitals, are routinely occupied by Government forces seeking to establish a presence. Underground field clinics are poorly equipped, unsterile and lack basic tools, medical supplies and blood. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is also active in providing for the medical and humanitarian needs of the conflict-affected.
117. International humanitarian law not only prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian objects but also requires their protection.[23] The commission collected video materials and conducted 12 interviews about attacks on protected persons or objects, in particular schools and medical facilities.
118. The commission recorded multiple incidents of attacks on field hospitals. During an intense shelling period, the Bab Amr field hospital was hit and partially destroyed. In Al Qusayr, in late February, a field clinic was attacked by a helicopter. One witness stated that, in February, the Yousef al-Atmeh school building in Jisr Al Shughour, used as a field clinic by local residents, was bombed by security forces.
119. Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were victims of attacks. Five staff members have been killed since the beginning of the crisis, the latest on 10 July in Deir el-Zour. In May, while evacuating two injured persons in A’zaz, a Red Crescent ambulance was shot at by military snipers and two medics were injured; all of them were wearing Red Crescent uniforms. On the same day, the Red Crescent office in A’zaz was shelled and burned. The director was arrested and held for 20 days.
120. On 24 April, in Duma, five ambulances belonging to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were caught in crossfire. One doctor was killed and four Red Crescent staff members were injured.
121. Government forces continued to occupy public hospitals in several localities. In May, the military placed tanks, armed vehicles and troops inside the compound and snipers on the roof of the national hospital in A’zaz and Al Qusayr. The same occurred in Al Haffe in June.
122. Government forces occupied schools and other civilian buildings, transforming them into military staging grounds, temporary bases and sniper posts. For instance, in March, a girl from Atarib described the use of two schools as barracks for Government forces, with tanks at the school gates and snipers posted on the rooftops. The school in Al Qusayr was similarly occupied in May. One interviewee stated that, on 11 March, he was shot at by a sniper from the rooftop of the local school in Jondia.
123. The commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces acted in violation of international humanitarian law by targeting members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. These acts may also be prosecutable as a war crime. Furthermore, by positioning its military assets, which are legitimate targets of enemy forces, inside civilian objects, Government forces are violating the international humanitarian law principle of distinction. Government forces have also violated international humanitarian law by deliberately shelling field clinics.
124. The Government’s occupation of hospitals and schools infringes the rights to education and health.
125. The commission was unable to corroborate allegations of anti-Government groups targeting civilians or civilian objects.
                   J.     Pillaging and destruction of property[24]
                   1.     Government forces and Shabbiha
126. The commission received corroborated reports of the pillaging, destruction and burning of property by Government forces and Shabbiha members during its military operations. Where such acts occurred during house searches, the commission documented dozens of cases of looting of property, including of money, vehicles, jewellery and electrical goods.
127. Those interviewed indicated that searches, and thus the pillaging, burning and destruction of property, targeted groups and individuals who appeared to be defectors, members of anti-Government armed groups, demonstrators, and family members of the aforementioned. In particular, family members of defectors described how their homes, farms and shops were burned. In some instances, the looting, burning and destruction of property appeared to be directed at entire communities rather than at specific individuals.
128. According to soldiers who later defected, the looting and burning of property of opposition activists and defectors was intended to, inter alia, impose financial constraints on them and their activities. Government soldiers and Shabbiha also benefited from these acts financially, conducting them with complete impunity.
129. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces and Shabbiha members committed the war crime of pillage. The commission also determined that Government forces and Shabbiha members engaged in the destruction and burning of property during house searches.
                   2.     Anti-Government armed groups
130. The commission received no reports of the pillaging or destruction of property by anti-Government armed groups, but lack of access to Syrian Arab Republic hampered investigations. The Government provided information relating to crimes allegedly perpetrated by anti-Government armed groups, including looting and vehicle theft, which the commission was unable to corroborate. Consequently, the commission was unable to reach any findings regarding the alleged pillaging, burning and destruction of property by anti-Government armed groups.

IV.    Responsibility
131. The commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, breaches of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations have been committed in the Syrian Arab Republic. The commission endeavoured, where possible, to identify individuals in leadership positions who may be responsible. In March, the commission handed over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights confidential lists of suspected individuals and units.[25] Further lists will be provided at the close of its current mandate, in September 2012.
                   A.     State responsibility
132. The evidence collected confirmed the commission’s previous finding that violations had been committed pursuant to State policy. Large-scale operations conducted in different governorates, their similar modus operandi, their complexity and integrated military/security apparatus indicate involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the Government.
133. Eyewitnesses consistently identified the Shabbiha as perpetrators of many of the crimes described in the present report. Although the nature, composition, hierarchy and structure of this group remains opaque, credible information led to the conclusion that Shabbiha members acted with the acquiescence of, in concert with or at the behest of Government forces. International human rights law recognizes the responsibility of States that commit violations through proxies.
                   B.     Responsibility of anti-Government armed groups
134. Although not a State party to the Geneva Conventions, organized armed groups must nevertheless abide by the principles of international humanitarian law.[26] During non-international armed conflicts, serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by members of such groups are prosecutable as war crimes. Non-State actors may also bear responsibility for gross abuses of human rights, in particular those that amount to international crimes.[27] The commission identified such violations, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture, perpetrated by members of anti-Government groups.
                   C.     Individual responsibility
135. Whether members of Government forces or anti-Government groups, those who intentionally commit the crimes identified in the present report bear responsibility. In addition, those who order these crimes to be committed (or plan, instigate, incite, aid or abet) are also liable. The commission received consistent evidence that mid- and high-ranking members of Government forces were directly involved in illegal acts. Defectors stated that commanders ordered their subordinates to shoot civilians and hors de combat fighters, and to torture and mistreat detainees. Orders were often enforced at gunpoint, and anyone hesitating to comply risked arrest or summary execution. Evidence showed that widespread looting and destruction of property occurred with the acquiescence of commanders.
136. Leadership within anti-Government armed groups was also implicated in the war crimes and human rights abuses detailed in the present report. Local commanders either ordered the execution of captured members of Government forces and the Shabbiha or killed them themselves.
                   D.     Command responsibility
137. Military commanders and civilian superiors bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes if they fail to take reasonable measures within their power to prevent or repress the commission of these crimes or to submit the matter to the competent authorities. These measures must be implemented with respect to subordinates over whom they exercise effective command and control.
138. Extensive coverage of events, including the likely occurrence of violations and crimes, led the commission to conclude that military commanders and civilian superiors at the highest levels of Government must have known about such events.
139. The same applied to abuses and crimes committed by anti-Government armed groups. Local-level commanders acknowledged some of the acts described in interviews.
140. The commission is unaware of efforts that meet international standards made by either the Government or anti-Government armed groups to prevent or punish crimes documented in the present report.
141. The Government’s National Independent Legal Commission has reportedly been investigating some allegations of violations.[28] The Government also set up a special inquiry into the events of Al-Houla. The investigation reports received on Tremseh, Al Qubeir and Al-Houla were considered by the commission. The commission was unable to identify any case of successful prosecution of any military or security force commanders or civilian superiors who bore responsibility for crimes against humanity, war crimes or gross human rights violations committed since March 2011.
142. No credible information has been received about anti-Government armed groups investigating, prosecuting and punishing members of their groups alleged to have committed crimes and abuses identified.

V.    Conclusions and recommendations
143. The human rights crisis has escalated significantly in the context of unrestrained hostilities, which have evolved into a non-international armed conflict. The civilian population across all communities bears the brunt of this conflict, thousands having lost their lives in the spiral of violence.
144. The socioeconomic and humanitarian situation has further deteriorated, leaving the majority of the population in a state of disarray. The commission maintains that sanctions result in a denial of the most basic human rights of the Syrian people.
145. The commission concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces and the Shabbiha committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. There are also reasonable grounds to believe that anti-Government armed groups committed war crimes and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Both parties violated the rights of children.
146. Human rights violations and abuses must be thoroughly investigated. Evidence of violations and abuses, including international crimes, must be systematically collected to facilitate the process of holding perpetrators accountable. Access must be accorded to the commission so that it may investigate such violations impartially and in situ.
147. The commission believes that the large-scale operations during which the most serious violations were committed were conducted with the knowledge, or at the behest, of the highest levels of Government. Responsibility therefore rests with those who either ordered or planned the acts or, in the case of those in effective command and control, those who failed to prevent or punish the perpetrators. The consistent identification of the Shabbiha as perpetrators of many of the crimes does not relieve the Government of its responsibility, as international law recognizes the responsibility of States that commit violations through proxies.
148. The commission identified violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed by members of anti-Government groups. Those who either ordered or planned the acts, or in the case of those in effective command and control, failed to prevent or punish perpetrators, bear responsibility.
149. The increased militarization of the conflict is disastrous for the Syrian people and could provoke tragic consequences for the entire region. A sustained cessation of hostilities by all parties remains of paramount importance to end the violence and gross human rights violations and abuses.
150. The commission reiterates that the best solution continues to be a negotiated settlement involving an inclusive and meaningful dialogue among all parties, leading to a political transition that reflects the legitimate aspirations of all segments of Syrian society, including ethnic and religious minorities.
151. Considering the catastrophic threats to the Syrian polity and people, as well as to the stability of the region, the commission renews the recommendations made in its previous reports, and emphasizes those that follow.
152. With regard to the international community:
(a) Countries with influence over the parties to the Syrian conflict, in particular the permanent members of the Security Council, should work in concert to put pressure on the parties to end the violence and to initiate all-inclusive negotiations for a sustainable political transition process in the country;
(b) The continued presence of the United Nations in the country is essential for the effective implementation of the ceasefire and to support the Syrian people in initiating broad, inclusive and credible consultations to achieve reconciliation, accountability and reparation within the framework of international law.
153. The commission recommends that the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic:
(a) Investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law as set out in the present report to ensure that those responsible are held to account, in accordance with due process, and that victims are afforded access to justice and reparation;
(b) Release immediately all persons arbitrarily detained, publish a list of all detention facilities and ensure that conditions of detention comply with applicable law;
(c) Abide by the rules of armed conflict and distribute the rules of engagement guiding army and security forces operations;
(d) Grant the international community immediate access to the affected areas to provide humanitarian assistance to all those in need.
154. The commission recommends that anti-Government armed groups:
(a) Adopt, publicly announce and abide by rules of conduct that are in line with international human rights law and international humanitarian law standards, and hold perpetrators of abuses to account;
(b) Provide relevant humanitarian and human rights institutions with information on the fate of persons captured, and to give access to detainees.
155. The commission recommends that the Office of the High Commissioner consolidate a presence in the region to strengthen efforts to promote and protect human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic.
156. The commission recommends that the Human Rights Council transmit the present report to the Secretary-General for the attention of the Security Council so that appropriate action may be taken in view of the gravity of the violations, abuses and crimes perpetrated by Government forces and the Shabbiha, and by anti-Government groups, documented herein.
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