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UK Calls on the Human Right Council for an Urgent Ceasefire in Syria

On 2 July, at the 41st session of the Human Rights Council, the UK stated its deep concern that hospitals and schools have been attacked in Idlib and called for the urgent return to the Sochi ceasefire. With over 300 killed and 330,000 displaced since the end of April, the UK Mission to the United Nations Geneva said they agree with the Commission that all sides must end the violence, return to the Sochi ceasefire, and abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.

“It is inexcusable that civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, have been attacked, despite the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs sharing deconfliction information with Russia and other parties,” the UK Mission said in a statement. It asked: “Given reports of numerous medical facilities being targeted in Idlib even after the UN had provided deconfliction information to all parties, will the Commission investigate this?”

US officials have called for the UN to “try other routes to achieving the political solution.” The UN envoy for Syria has failed to make progress on a post-war constitution, once considered a priority for new elections. The UN Security Council has called for the implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, which envisages a transitional governing body “formed on the basis of mutual consent.” But nine rounds of UN-mediated peace talks – known as the Geneva II process – since 2014 have shown little progress.

“It is time to admit that not only has progress stalled, it is likely to remain out of reach for some time, because that’s where the regime wants it to be,” Jonathan Cohen, acting US Ambassador to the UN, told Deutsche Welle.

Cohen said a 17-month effort to form a committee that would re-write Syria’s constitution has stalled due to the regime’s disagreements over its makeup.

“The time has come for the Security Council to encourage special envoy (Geir) Pedersen to try other routes to achieving the political solution,” Cohen said.

The UN views a new constitution as a key step towards a political solution to the eight-year conflict that would pave the way for elections. But Cohen said the UN envoy for Syria should instead focus on preparing elections that would include refugee participation in the vote. Securing a permanent ceasefire across the country and the release of political detainees is also paramount, he added.

Recently, the UN signed an action plan with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance that has played a significant role in defeating the Islamic State (IS) terror group. In an effort to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children under the age of 18, the group has committed to identifying and releasing young boys and girls currently within its ranks, and put in place preventative, protection and disciplinary measures related to child recruitment and use, according to the United Nations.

“It is an important day for the protection of children in Syria and it marks the beginning of a process as it demonstrates a significant commitment by the SDF to ensure that no child is recruited and used by any entity operating under its umbrella,” said Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, on the day of the announcement.

The eight-year-long conflict in Syria has evolved into a multi-fronted war involving global powers, neighboring countries and non-state actors, including the US, Russia and Iran. Last month, senior UN officials warned of unimaginable consequences in north-west Syria if critical players do not exert the political will needed to end the protracted conflict.

“Our unflagging efforts to mediate a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people cannot move forward in an environment of open conflict,” the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacekeeping Affairs said as she provided an update on current events.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group with a network of sources on the ground, had documented the deaths of 367,965 people by December 2018. The figure did not include 192,035 people who it said were missing and presumed dead. Since the conflict erupted in 2011, more than 5.6 million refugees have fled across borders and another 6.6 million people within the country have become internally displaced.

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