UN launches probe into raids on Syria hospitals, civilians

A Syrian boy, displaced from the town of Khan Sheikhoun, gazes at the makeshift camp where he currently lives in Idlib, near the Turkish border. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2019

UN launches probe into raids on Syria hospitals, civilians

  • The three-member board of inquiry to start work Sept. 30
  • Dujarric stressed that the board will only ascertain the facts of the attacks and will not assess blame

AP NEW YORK: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres selected a Nigerian general on Friday to lead a UN investigation into attacks on hospitals and other civilian sites in Syria’s last opposition stronghold in the northwest amid protests that its findings will be kept secret.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced that the three-member board of inquiry to start work Sept. 30 will be led by Lt. Gen. Chikadibia Obiakor and include Janet Lim of Singapore and Maria Santos Pais of Portugal.

Dujarric stressed that the board will only ascertain the facts of the attacks and will not assess blame. Its findings “are internal documents and not for public release,” he said.

Guterres announced plans for the board Aug. 1 following a series of attacks on hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities in Idlib and the de-confliction area in northwest Syria.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said: “It’s vital that the findings are made public, first of all so that justice can be done, but also so that it’s clear to combatants in Syria or elsewhere that there will be accountability for them for their actions. “The great fear of an unpublished report is that the facts never get out, and if the facts never get out there can’t be any accountability.”

SPEADREAD

• More than 500 civilians have been killed and many hundreds injured since the offensive began.

• Forty-three health facilities, 87 educational facilities, 29 water stations and seven markets had been affected by the fighting.

Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said the board of inquiry “should work quickly to attribute attacks on medical facilities and other humanitarian sites in Syria to the forces who committed them.”

“The secretary-general should make the investigators’ findings public. The UN needs to remind Russia, Syria and other parties to the conflict that targeting humanitarian facilities is a war crime and those responsible will be held to account.”

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said more than 500 civilians have been killed and many hundreds injured since the offensive began. The UN health and children’s agencies reported then that 43 health facilities, 87 educational facilities, 29 water stations and seven markets had been affected by the fighting, he said.


‘Jury still out’ on new Lebanon government, says rights chief

Updated 24 January 2020

‘Jury still out’ on new Lebanon government, says rights chief

  • The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said it was too early to say if the new government would be any better than its predecessor
  • Kenneth Roth: We’ve seen in Lebanon a government that can’t even clean up the garbage, they can’t deliver electricity, they can’t provide the most basic services

DAVOS: The “jury is still out” on whether the new government in Lebanon will be any different to the old one, the head of Human Rights Watch told Arab News on Friday.

Lebanon has been convulsed by demonstrations since October, when people took to the streets to protest against corruption, unemployment, a lack of basic services and economic problems. Political veteran Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister so that a new cabinet could be formed, but it took time to assemble a coalition.

The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said it was too early to say if the new government would be any better than its predecessor. He warned, however, that the early signs were not promising.

“We’ve seen in Lebanon a government that can’t even clean up the garbage, they can’t deliver electricity, they can’t provide the most basic services,” Roth told Arab News on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “It’s not at all clear that the more technocratic government that has been put in place is going to be responsive to the needs of the people and able to deliver. The jury is still out on that. While the government has responded to the protesters’ demand on a political level by changing personnel, the security forces on the ground have often responded violently, and in repeated instances used excessive force rather than respect the rights of the protesters to petition their government to appeal for a government that is more respectful of their needs and accountable to their desires.”

According to Amnesty International, Lebanese security forces’ unlawful use of rubber bullets last weekend left at least 409 protesters injured, some seriously, in the most violent weekend since the protests began on Oct. 17.

“The protesters in Lebanon are upset by what they see as a dysfunctional and unaccountable government, I mean they are the most basic services that are not being provided,” Roth said, adding that the government was getting “increasingly intolerant.”

He also expressed concern about the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The rights’ group says there are around 1.5 million of them in the country and that 74 percent lack legal status. “Authorities heightened calls for the return of refugees in 2018 and municipalities have forcibly evicted thousands of refugees,” the group said in a report.

“Syrian refugees obviously do impose a burden on Lebanon, but nonetheless there are legal obligations and the government really led by President (Michel) Aoun rather than former Prime Minister Hariri has been trying to make life more miserable for the refugees in the hope of forcing them back to Syria despite the fact that Syria remains completely unsafe,” Roth said.

Aoun and his son-in-law, former foreign minister Gebran Bassil, head the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which has the biggest parliamentary bloc. Aoun and Bassil have repeatedly claimed that Syria is now a safe and peaceful country and that the refugees should go back.

“It is not safe to force anybody back, the Lebanese government knows this in the sense that they are not putting guns to people’s heads and forcing them back, but they’re doing the metaphorical equivalent by making life so miserable that many refugees feel that despite the risks to their lives, they have to go back to Syria because there’s nothing for them in Lebanon,” Roth added.