Towns have been destroyed and communities fractured by the ongoing conflict. Medical facilities, schools, public spaces (such as parks), cultural heritage sites (including churches and mosques) and basic services (electricity and water) have all been negatively impacted.
The war has caused millions of Syrians to flee their homes to escape the violence, creating an international humanitarian crisis and straining available resources to aid internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees.
The practice of “siege warfare” has decimated the nation’s infrastructure and afflicted the civilian population, including religious minorities.
Civilians, OHCHR emphasized, “remain the primary victims” and have endured “flagrant violations of human rights and humanitarian law.”
“Civilians have been deliberately killed in attacks where the belligerents have conflated a community’s ethnic and/or religious backgrounds and its perceived political loyalties,” the report explained. “In some cases, there has been intentional targeting of various ethnic, religious and professional communities, as well as sexual minorities.”
The Islamic State continues to impose its strict religious views on areas under its control.
“Schools operate with a curriculum dictated by the group’s religious interpretations,” and Sunni Muslims and secularists are the focus of most IS religious restrictions, OHCHR reported.
The Yazidis, a Kurdish religious tradition, has suffered intense persecution at the hands of IS, which has declared they don’t have the right “to exist inside its ‘caliphate.'”
Thousands of Yazidis have been killed, hundreds of women have been forced into sexual slavery, and boys as young as 7 are compelled to fight in their army.
Christians have faced direct violence – such as the Assyrian Christians who were kidnapped and killed by IS in February 2015 – and endured other forms of persecution – “the payment of a ‘jiyza’ tax, the removal of crosses and the destruction of statues and shrines.”
Other militants have persecuted religious groups, as well. Anti-government groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra, have tortured and killed Murshidi Muslims, though OHCHR said “the extent to which their religious background motivated the attack” was unclear.
Syrian government forces, composed largely of Shi’a Muslims, have targeted Sunni Muslims who are deemed to not be “sufficiently loyal” to the Assad regime. “Sunnis … account for the majority of civilian casualties and detainees,” the report emphasized.
“The Government’s attacks on communities perceived to support armed groups – owing to their geographic location and/or religious background – and its reliance on Alawite and Shi’a forces, both within its own ranks and in allied forces, have also stoked sectarian tensions,” OCHCR added.