GENEVA — The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria says in a new report that lawlessness remains widespread throughout Syria, despite a general winding down of the war as pro-government forces make military gains.
In its report to be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 12, the commission said there had been a significant drop in fighting in Syria during the reporting period from mid-July 2018 to mid-January 2019. That, it said, was mainly due to extensive military gains made by forces allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and an agreement between Turkey and Russia to establish a demilitarized zone in northwestern Syria.
But U.N. investigators said the war was not over. They said attacks by pro-government forces in Idlib and western Aleppo have caused scores of civilian casualties. They said civilians also suffered from the fighting by Syrian Democratic Forces and the U.S.-led international coalition against Islamic State militants in Deir el-Zour.
Chairman Paulo Pinheiro said the commission did not evaluate decisions made by any member state engaged in Syria. But he told VOA the commission was deeply concerned about the possible implications of any large-scale troop withdrawals. He said they could deepen insecurity and endanger the rule of law and human rights.
Greater instability seen
“The withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria or from those at the al-Tanf zone in the south near Rukban indeed have the potential to deepen … security vacuums,” Pinheiro said. “And in the north, to increase tensions between Kurdish and Turkish forces.”
A U.S. military base in the al-Tanf safe zone in Rukban, a Syrian desert outpost near Jordan, is sheltering thousands of displaced civilians. Washington had said it would withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from eastern Syria, near the Turkish border, since IS militants had been defeated. But it has since decided to keep 500 troops in the predominantly Kurdish-controlled area.
Though the war appears to be winding down, the commission said it was unsafe for millions of internally displaced people and refugees to return to their homes in Syria. Before sustainable returns are feasible, it said, there must be a substantial and permanent reduction of hostilities.
The three-member commission said all warring parties must guarantee returnees will not face persecution, discrimination, arbitrary detention and torture. It said that only tangible progress toward a political settlement ending the eight-year-old conflict would make that possible.