Greater United States and Russian engagement on Syria and efforts to reach a political settlement in 2016 failed to significantly reduce egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law that have come to characterize the armed conflict there.
According to the Syrian Center for Policy Research, an independent Syrian research organization, the death toll from the conflict as of February 2016 was 470,000. The spread and intensification of fighting has led to a dire humanitarian crisis, with 6.1 million internally displaced people and 4.8 million seeking refuge abroad, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. By mid-2016, an estimated 1 million people were living in besieged areas and denied life-saving assistance and humanitarian aid.
More than 117,000 have been detained or disappeared since 2011, the vast majority by government forces, including 4,557 between January and June 2016, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Torture and ill-treatment are rampant in detention facilities; thousands have died in detention.
The Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and the former Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, which changed its name to Jabhat Fath al-Sham, were responsible for systematic and widespread violations, including targeting civilians with artillery, kidnappings, and executions. Non-state armed groups opposing the government also carried out serious abuses including indiscriminate attacks against civilians, using child soldiers, kidnapping, unlawfully blocking humanitarian aid, and torture.
In its fourth report, released this year, the Joint Investigative Mechanism between the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN concluded that Syrian government forces used chemicals in an attack in Idlib in March 2015. The inquiry also identified the military units responsible for flights connected to the attacks but could not name the commanders of the units due to the Syrian government’s failure to respond to crucial queries. In an earlier report, the joint inquiry had reached the same conclusion for two other attacks, in 2014 and 2015. The inquiry also previously found that ISIS had used sulfur mustard gas in an attack on areas held by armed opposition groups in August 2015.
On October 28, Russia lost its seat at the Human Rights Council after failing to secure enough votes for re-election from UN member states. Several human rights and humanitarian relief organizations, including Human Rights Watch, had urged UN member states to hold Russia accountable for its involvement in possible war crimes.