European Union External Action

EU puts a spotlight on the civilian suffering in Syria at HRC43

20/03/2020 - 15:01
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Entering its 10th year, the conflict in Syria has been devastating. Millions of Syrians were forced to flee their homes, in the face of war crimes and a disastrous humanitarian situation. In the context of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC43), the EU Delegation organized two events early March to continue to raise awareness of the ongoing human suffering in Syria and to reaffirm the importance of accountability for war crimes, civilian protection and the need for safe and sustain humanitarian access to people in need across the country.


Violence and human suffering has flared up in north-west Syria as a result of military offensives of the recent months, killing and displacing more innocent civilians. In the light of this deteriorating humanitarian situation and in view of the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry for Syria at the HRC43, the EU Delegation together with the Syrian Negotiating Commission (SNC), the German Agency for Development Cooperation GIZ and the US Mission in Geneva, organised an event on Monday 9 March to raise awareness on the Caesar file that documents war crimes committed in the Syrian conflict and calls on the international community to ensure genuine accountability for the families of the victims. The Caesar file is a report of 55,000 photos of 11,000 bodies from five detention facilities around Damascus, smuggled out by a regime police photographer known as Caesar, that display the extent of torture, death and crimes committed in facilities of the Syrian regime.


EU Ambassador and Deputy Head of the EU Delegation, Carl Hallergard, stressed the need for full disclosure of the fate of all detainees for the relief of the victims' families and recalled the crucial role of international law to seek for accountability from the Syrian regime. This was reaffirmed on Tuesday 10 March in an EU intervention during the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry for Syria: EU Ambassador Walter Stevens reiterated that "Accountability for violations and abuses of international law is of utmost importance and the European Union reiterate its call that the situation in Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court."


Present at the Caesar file event were members of families of Syrian detainees who had died in the detention centers and who featured amongst the Caesar pictures. Mothers and brothers shared their personal, very moving testimonies and underlined the suffering of a large part of the Syrian population. “There is not one person in Syria who has not lost a family member in the war, either arbitrarily detained or killed by the shellings.“


All panelists underlined that such events allowed to put the spotlight on forced disappearances and that the international community needs to play an active role and push for a political process that allows full transparency.

Over the past 9 years,  the destruction of civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools, as well as the indiscriminate and deliberate targeting of medical and humanitarian workers, has also caused immense suffering. On this particular topic, the EU Delegation in partnership with the Graduate Institute in Geneva screened the Syrian documentary and 2020 Oscar nominee "The Cave". The documentary presents the personal story of Dr Amani Ballour and her colleagues in an underground hospital in the besieged Syrian city of Eastern Ghouta, aka The Cave, treating victims of airstrikes and chemical attacks. Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus was under the control of rebels and besieged and bombarded by government forces for over five years, between 2012 and 2018.


"The EU has repeatedly condemned the persistent patterns of human rights violations and indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Syria, especially hospitals and schools", stressed EU Ambassador Stevens. "The EU is and will remain fully committed to support the Syrian people and efforts by the UN to achieve peace in Syria."


The screening, which was deeply felt by everyone in the audience, was followed by a panel discussion in the presence of the courageous Dr Ballour herself. The images and Dr Ballour’s words intensified the pressing feeling for action in the room as she reminded that "The same children that you have seen in the movie are still in the same situation. They are still being bombed, killed every day." Dr Ballour had to flee to Turkey after regime forces launched a final offensive on Eastern Ghouta in 2018. She continues to be an inspiring personality for peace in Syria and helps her fellow Syrians by supporting women in conflict situations through her Al Amal Hope Fund. 


EU Ambassador Stevens finally reminded that "it is critical to keep the spotlight on the civilians suffering in Syria. The EU is and will remain fully committed to supporting the Syrian people and efforts by the UN to achieve peace in Syria.“


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