Amnesty Inter­na­tional: UN must take urgent action to ensure jus­tice in Syria

Two years after Syr­i­ans rose in peace­ful protest against their gov­ern­ment, the coun­try is mired in a bloody con­flict with both sides respon­si­ble for war crimes, Amnesty Inter­na­tional found in two brief­ings released today.

Research car­ried out inside Syria in the last fort­night con­firms that gov­ern­ment forces con­tinue to bomb civil­ians indis­crim­i­nately often with inter­na­tion­ally banned weapons, flat­ten­ing entire neigh­bour­hoods.

Detainees held by these forces are rou­tinely sub­jected to tor­ture, enforced dis­ap­pear­ances or extra-​judicial executions.

Armed oppo­si­tion groups have increas­ingly resorted to hostage tak­ing, and to the tor­ture and sum­mary killing of sol­diers, pro-​government mili­tias and civil­ians they have cap­tured or abducted.

“While the vast major­ity of war crimes and other gross vio­la­tions con­tinue to be com­mit­ted by gov­ern­ment forces, our research also points to an esca­la­tion in abuses by armed oppo­si­tion groups,” said Ann Har­ri­son, Deputy Direc­tor of Amnesty International’s Mid­dle East and North Africa Programme.

“If left unad­dressed such prac­tices risk becom­ing more and more entrenched — it is imper­a­tive that all those con­cerned know they will be held account­able for their actions.”

Our research has once again demon­strated that the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment is using inter­na­tion­ally banned weapons against civilians.

On 1 March, an Amnesty Inter­na­tional researcher in Aleppo found nine clus­ter bombs that had been dropped from a fixed-​wing air­craft on to a densely pop­u­lated hous­ing estate.

More than a dozen res­i­dents were killed and scores more injured, many of them children.

A res­i­dent from the al-​Dik fam­ily told Amnesty Inter­na­tional how his rel­a­tives were killed in the attack: “Inas, 2, Heba, 8, Rama, 5, Nizar, 6, Taha, 11 months, Moham­mad, 18 months. They were all killed; why? Why bomb children?.”

As always with such attacks, the site was left lit­tered with unex­ploded bomblets, which will con­tinue to kill and maim those who pick them up – often children.

Nearby, the arm of a child was recov­ered from beneath the rub­ble of a neigh­bour­hood flat­tened by a long-​range surface-​to-​surface bal­lis­tic mis­sile fired from gov­ern­ment forces hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres away.

Hun­dreds of res­i­dents, many of them chil­dren, were killed and injured in three such recent attacks which wiped out entire families.

Sabah, a 31– ​year-​old woman who sur­vived the car­nage told Amnesty Inter­na­tional about her loss: “My daugh­ters, Isra’, Amani and Aya, aged 4, 6 and 11, my hus­band, my mother, my 14-​year-​old sis­ter Nour, and my other sister’s three sons, Ahmad, Abdal­lah and Moham­mad, aged 18 months, and 3 and 4 years. They were all killed, what is left for me in this life?.”

Thou­sands have per­ished across the coun­try in recent months in sim­i­lar attacks by gov­ern­ment forces with weapons which should never be used in civil­ian areas.

Else­where in Aleppo, the bod­ies of men and boys – shot in the head, hands tied behind their backs – are recov­ered almost daily from the river.

The bod­ies float down­stream from a part of the city under the con­trol of gov­ern­ment forces.

Among the vic­tims found in the first week of March were a 12– ​year-​old boy and his father; they, like oth­ers iden­ti­fied so far, had dis­ap­peared in a government-​controlled area of the city.

A video from another part of the coun­try shows a boy appar­ently aged between 12 and 14 hold­ing a machete stand­ing over a man – later iden­ti­fied as Colonel ‘Izz al-​Din Badr.

He lies pros­trate on the ground with his hands behind his back. A voice in the back­ground shouts: “He doesn’t have the strength.” The boy brings the machete down on the man’s neck, cheered on by mem­bers of an armed oppo­si­tion group.

“Chil­dren in Syria are being killed and maimed in increas­ingly large num­bers in bom­bard­ments car­ried out by gov­ern­ment forces. Many have seen their par­ents, sib­lings and neigh­bours blown to pieces in front of them. They are grow­ing up exposed to unimag­in­able hor­rors,” said Harrison.

In an area in south­ern Dam­as­cus, wit­nesses described a “hole of death” — where armed oppo­si­tion forces are believed to have dumped the exe­cuted bod­ies of pro-​government fight­ers or those sus­pected of being informers.

In another case, an Amnesty Inter­na­tional researcher was told how a man accused of being a col­lab­o­ra­tor was found after being killed by an oppo­si­tion group.

A neigh­bour told Amnesty Inter­na­tional: “We imme­di­ately went there and found him on a heap of waste, with a bul­let hole in the mid­dle of his fore­head, a firearm injury to the shoulder…His knee was broken…A brown card hung on him with the words ‘col­lab­o­ra­tor (awayni), Colonel Helal Eid’.”

Accord­ing to the UN, more than two mil­lion civil­ians have been inter­nally dis­placed. Hav­ing fled their homes, many now face renewed shelling and bomb­ing in the areas in which they sought shel­ter and have been dis­placed a sec­ond time.

Turkey has par­tially closed its bor­der leav­ing thou­sands of inter­nally dis­placed peo­ple stranded on the Syr­ian side in appalling conditions.

“With every pass­ing hour of inde­ci­sion by the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity, the death toll rises. How many more civil­ians must die before the UN Secu­rity Coun­cil refers the sit­u­a­tion to the pros­e­cu­tor of the Inter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court so that there can be account­abil­ity for these hor­ren­dous crimes?” said Harrison.

Source: Amnesty Inter­na­tional

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