Arria-Formula Meeting with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
Tomorrow morning (21 April), Council members are expected to hold an Arria-formula meeting with the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria, organised by France, the UK and the US. Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the COI, is expected to brief. The format is meant to be interactive, permitting members to ask questions of Pinheiro and fellow commissioner Karen AbuZayd, following the briefing. This will be the seventh Arria formula meeting with the Commission of Inquiry, but the first since November 2015.
Tomorrow’s briefing is expected to focus on the impact that violence in Syria continues to have on civilians. The commissioners will describe violations of international humanitarian and human rights law carried out in the conflict since July 2016, according to a concept note prepared for the meeting. They will focus on potential accountability measures with respect to those responsible for committing atrocities, displacement caused by the fighting, and the impact of chemical weapons in the conflict. The Commission of Inquiry will most likely underscore the collective responsibility of states, including members of the Security Council, to work toward a political solution; four of the five permanent members of the Council are involved in the Syria conflict.
The commission will discuss the findings of its report (A/HRC/34/64) of 2 February, its conference room paper (A/HRC/34/CRP.3) of 10 March, and developments since the release of these documents. The report and the conference paper catalogue a variety of horrific acts of violence against civilians. According to the COI, Syrian government and pro-government forces have bombed schools, hospitals, markets and water stations in recent months, and the Syrian government was responsible for using chlorine gas in eastern Aleppo throughout 2016. There may be some discussion as well during the meeting of the impact on civilians of the 4 April chemical weapons attack on the Khan Shaykhun area of Idlib.
The significant human rights violations committed by armed groups are likely to be discussed in meeting as well. According to the Commission’s findings, armed groups have fired indiscriminately into civilian areas in Aleppo, Dara’a and Idlib governates. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which was designated as a terrorist group by the Security Council in resolution 2170, has recruited child soldiers and carried out summary executions. The rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’ “continues to be marked by executions and severe corporal punishments of civilians accused of violating the group’s ideology, and the destruction of cultural heritage sites,” according to the Commission’s conference room paper.
The impact on civilians of displacement caused by the fighting will probably feature in the discussion. Since the start of the conflict six years ago, half of Syria’s population has been displaced. In mid-March, the last rebel-held enclave of Homs, Al-Waer, started its evacuation following a local truce; the opposition has repeatedly referred to such deals as forced population transfers.
As in Arria-formula meetings with the Syria Commission of Inquiry in past years, a number of members will most likely be interested in maintaining a focus on the issue of accountability, including how accountability measures can be leveraged to support a political solution to the crisis. An effort to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC was blocked by vetoes by China and Russia on 22 May 2014.
Members may also be interested in hearing about the potential relationship between the Commission of Inquiry and the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism on Syria. This mechanism was established by the General Assembly in December 2016 to collect evidence and “to prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings.” It is intended to cooperate closely with the COI.
The meeting takes place amidst continuing tensions in the Council on Syria following last week’s veto by Russia of a P3-sponsored draft resolution, prepared following the Khan Shaykhun chemical weapons attack, that would have set out demands for Syria to comply with relevant recommendations of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission (FFM) and the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM).