OHCHR Press Briefing Notes - (1) Syria, (2) Gaza
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Subject: (1) Syria, (2) Gaza
The absolutely abhorrent attack on Khan Shaykun has once again focused international attention on Syria – and rightly
so. If confirmed, the use of chemical weapons by any party to the conflict would amount to a war crime.
Sadly, the attack on Khan Shaykun was far from an isolated incident. There have been many – too many – other incidents
in various parts of Syria in recent weeks where civilians have perished. Idleb and Raqqa are among the governorates that
have been subjected to the most intensive bombing to date. In March alone, the UN Human Rights Office documented that
more than 130 civilians had reportedly been killed and a further 170 injured in Raqqa, and more than 100 killed – a
third of them children – and over 50 injured in Idleb.
The overwhelming majority of such deaths and injuries are reportedly due to airstrikes. Other areas have not been
spared: airstrikes on 3 and 4 April reportedly killed at least 42 civilians – 11 of them women and six children - in
Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus.
Civilians in besieged towns, including in the Damascus suburbs and in Idleb Governorate, continue to die due to
indiscriminate attacks launched from the air and ground, sniper fire and the denial of water, food and medicine. The UN
Human Rights Office documented that in March at least eight civilians were reportedly killed by snipers in the town of
Madaya, and three civilians killed by ground-based strikes in Al-Fuah.
In addition, suicide bombers have increasingly been targeting areas in Damascus frequented by high number of civilians,
including the central court complex that was one of the targets of a double bombing on 15 March that left more than 30
people dead. Since August last year, the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria has documented seven attacks
involving the use of chlorine by Syrian forces.
All parties to the conflict in Syria, including foreign states conducting airstrikes, must take constant care to spare
the civilian population by strictly respecting their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the
principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions.
Civilians have paid a brutal price during this conflict, and we call once again on the international community,
including the Security Council, to set aside political differences and focus on ensuring that the people of Syria are
spared further terror, death and devastation. Those who are responsible for such grave violations of international human
rights and humanitarian law across the country must be held to account.
We condemn in the strongest terms the execution of three men in Gaza on Thursday, despite our appeal and those by other
international and Palestinian organizations for the sentences not to go ahead. The defendants had been convicted of
treason under the PLO Revolutionary Penal Code on the basis of what is termed “collaboration with the occupier”.
These executions were carried out in breach of Palestine’s obligations under international law, including the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which places stringent conditions on the use of the death penalty.
A number of these conditions were breached in Thursday’s executions. The individuals were convicted of treason, which
does not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes”. Under international human rights law, these are understood to be
intentional killings. They were civilians convicted by a military court, again in contravention of international law.
We are also concerned that trials in Gaza resulting in the imposition of a death sentence do not appear to meet
international fair trial standards. Allegations of torture, which the authorities have not investigated sufficiently,
raise the possibility that confessions may have been coerced. Also, individuals cannot effectively exercise their right
to seek a pardon or have their sentence commuted, as required by international law. Under Palestinian law, a pardon or
commutation can only be granted by the President.
We urge the authorities in Gaza to halt further executions and comply with Palestine’s obligations under international
law. We also call on the State of Palestine to immediately establish an official moratorium on the use of the death
penalty with a view to its abolition.