UN expert calls 2016 as worst for civilians in Syria: UN expert

UNITED NATIONS: After a promising start, the year 2016 has been the worst for civilian casualties in the war in Syria, according to the head of a United Nations-mandated human rights inquiry into the Middle Eastern country.

“If we compare the year 2016 that happily is ending in a few days, I think that it was the worst in terms of attacks against the civilian population; that is, you have an escalation in terms of the military involvement by all sides against the civilian population,” Chairman of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said in a statement.

“It was a tragic year for the civilian population.”

Pinheiro pointed to the first three months of the year as offering “plenty of hope,” which was subsequently followed by “plenty of frustration.”

He credited Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, for “moments of hope,” as the UN Special Envoy for Syria built possibilities for “a real negotiation” between all of the conflict parties.

Pinheiro expressed optimism in the election and appointment of Antonio Guterres as Secretary-General, calling it “a new element” in helping to end the Syrian conflict.

“I think that with his large experience, we’ll be able to see new initiatives concerning the very difficult path towards negotiation and peace,” he added.

Established by the UN Human Rights Council in August 2011, the Commission has been investigating and recording all violations of international law in Syria since March that year.

It has conducted interviews with more than 1,400 witnesses and victims, exposing human rights violations committed throughout the country.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General-Designate Antonio Guterres said that the Syrian conflict “has become a cancer on a global scale”, hoping Washington and Moscow overcome their differences to help end the crisis.

The war has caused “not only the suffering of the Syrian people” but also sparks “violent reactions which in some cases lead to terrorist acts”, the former Portuguese premier told Portugal’s SIC television channel in an interview broadcast Wednesday.

The conflict began in 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad but quickly morphed into a civil war after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent.

The war has killed more than 310,000 people and forced millions more to flee their homes.

It has since become a complex, multi-front conflict, drawing in global powers as well as militias.

While Western powers and some regional states have backed the rebellion, Russia and Iran have thrown their full weight behind Assad’s regime.

Guterres termed the conflict a “global threat” and said global powers must decide to end the conflict, something he judged could not be done without external support.

In a separate statement, he said he wants to meet Donald Trump “as soon as possible” and is “determined to establish a constructive dialogue with the new US administration”.

Guterres, who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of  last month, said he hoped for a similar outcome with the American President-elect.

The former Portuguese prime minister takes over from Ban Ki-moon on 1 January amid ongoing bloodshed in Syria and questions over the US role in the world under a Trump presidency.

“I had an excellent working meeting with President Putin and I hope this will also be the case with Donald Trump,” he told Portuguese television channel SIC in an interview Wednesday.

“It is certainly in my interest to visit him as soon as possible,” he said. “The United States is not only the main donor of the United Nations but a fundamental element in its actions.”

Trump on Friday said Washington’s policies at the UN will be different  after he takes office.

“As to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20th,” he said on Twitter, referring to the date of his inauguration.

The tweet came after the United States refrained from vetoing the adoption of a Security Council measure calling on Israel – its closest Middle East ally – to halt settlement activities in Palestinian territory.

Guterres said he was “determined to establish a constructive dialogue with the future American administration”.—APP