Thousands of civilians trapped in Raqqa, northern Syria, are coming under fire from all sides as the battle for control of the city enters its final stage, Amnesty International said following an in-depth investigation on the ground. The warring parties must prioritize protecting them from hostilities and creating safe ways for them to flee the frontline.
In a report released today, the organization documents how hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured since an offensive began in June to recapture the “capital” and main stronghold of the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS).
Survivors and witnesses told Amnesty International that they faced IS booby traps and snipers targeting anyone trying to flee, as well as a constant barrage of artillery strikes and airstrikes by the US-led coalition forces fighting alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) armed group. At the same time, survivors recounted how Russian-backed Syrian government forces also bombarded civilians in villages and camps south of the river, including with internationally banned cluster bombs.
Syrian Kurdish opposition activist Suleiman Abdulmajid Oussou was released on 24 June. He had been detained by the Asayish forces since 23 May. Suleiman Abdulmajid Oussou was held in poor conditions while suffering a critical heart condition.
Suleiman Abdulmajid Oussou, a 58-year-old activist and father of six, was released on 24 June from Allaya prison in Qamishli, north-eastern Syria, for treatment and under the condition that he signs a written statement pledging that he will attend the court hearings when notified. Suleiman Oussou is currently receiving the medical care his condition requires and recovering at home.
Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, blogs from Beirut, Lebanon. Follow Salil on Twitter @SalilShetty
At a time of extreme contestation of what constitutes truth, and an era where “fake news” is almost celebrated, the rule of law based on real evidence is more essential than ever.
International human rights law and humanitarian law are long-established standards and norms, and are critical to be able to distinguish right from wrong.
Human rights give us a framework to interpret and describe why what we see is wrong. And they give us a legal architecture to hold governments to account and demand change.
And what is the alternative to addressing the massive challenges the world faces without international solidarity and accountability, without a shared commitment to uphold the equal and inalienable rights of every person?
In response to United States airstrikes on a Syrian army airbase in Homs, three days after a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 civilians in Idlib province, Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, said:
“US forces must strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and take all possible measures to protect the civilian population when carrying out military action, including by refraining from using internationally banned-weapons such as cluster munitions.
“Recent airstrikes by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria have killed hundreds of civilians, many of whom were women and children trapped inside their houses.
“The United Nations Security Council has been unable to protect civilians in Syria for the past six years. It has emboldened all parties to the conflict in Syria to commit appalling crimes with impunity.
“It is imperative for member states to adopt a resolution that would ensure an investigation on the ground into the chemical attack that took place in Khan Sheikhoun and that would facilitate bringing perpetrators of such crimes to justice.”
Evidence gathered is suggesting a nerve agent was used in an air-launched chemical attack which killed more than 70 and injured hundreds of civilians in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s northern province of Idleb, Amnesty International revealed as the UN Security Council meets for an emergency meeting in New York this morning.
The organization is urging the Security Council to immediately adopt a resolution that will enforce the prohibition of chemical weapons attacks and facilitate bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
“Security Council members, and in particular Russia and China, have displayed callous disregard for human life in Syria by repeatedly failing to pass resolutions that would allow for punitive measures to be taken against those committing war crimes and other serious violations in Syria,” said Anna Neistat, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International.
By Syria campainger Leen Hashem
Today, ministers and representatives of over 70 countries and humanitarian organisations are attending the “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” conference in Brussels. The conference focuses on gathering additional funds and assistance for Syrians inside Syria and in neighboring countries and discussing the reconstruction of Syria “once a genuinely inclusive political transition is firmly underway”.
It is reassuring to see the international community come together to support Syrians who fled the violence in Syria and sought refuge in neighboring host countries. However, Syrian refugees continue to face serious challenges including restrictive access to health services, employment and protection. The international community should ensure the rights of Syrian refugees through meaningful responsibility-sharing by guaranteeing funding for refugee protection; and by significantly increasing the number of resettlement places and other admission pathways.
After a year trapped in Greece, this week Alan, Gyan and the rest of the family have finally travelled to Germany. We know they arrived safely and that they are provisionally staying in a camp. We will keep you updated.
Alan and Gyan are Kurdish refugees from Syria. They both suffer from muscular dystrophy and fled their home in Syria in wheelchairs; escaping bombs and the Islamic State. They arrived in Greece in March 2016 with their mother, Amsha and two siblings, Ivan and Shilan. Their father and another sister are already in Germany.
Their arduous journey in search of safety had taken them and their family across four borders. They were shot at on three occasions when they were trying to cross into Turkey and were strapped to the side of a horse in order to cross the mountainous border between Iraq and Turkey.
"I was beaten with cables and told to kneel before a picture of Bashar Al-Assad."
Former detainee Abu al-Najem
Six years of crisis in Syria, which began after anti-government protests erupted in March 2011, have been marred by horror and bloodshed. Parties to the conflict continued to commit human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. To date, victims have seen no justice. Syrian government forces, with the support of Russia, have attacked and bombed civilians, killing and injuring thousands; maintained lengthy sieges on civilian areas; subjected tens of thousands to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions; and systematically tortured and otherwise ill-treated detainees causing countless deaths in custody. Armed groups have indiscriminately shelled and besieged predominately civilian areas, and committed abductions, torture and summary killings.
Released 00.01 GMT 15 March 2017
As war crimes and crimes against humanity continue to go unpunished in Syria, an Amnesty International campaign marking the sixth anniversary of the crisis calls on world leaders to take immediate action to deliver justice, truth and reparation to the millions of victims of the conflict.
The Justice for Syria campaign calls on governments to end impunity and make accountability a reality for the Syrian people by supporting and funding the investigative mechanism on Syria voted for by the UN General Assembly in December 2016 and by enforcing universal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute, in their own courts, suspected perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.
“Six harrowing years on, there is no excuse for allowing the horrific crimes under international law that are being committed in Syria to go unpunished,” said Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional Office.
Russia and China have again abused their veto power at the United Nations Security Council today, following a vote on a draft resolution that would have helped ensure accountability for the use and production of chemical weapons by all parties to the conflict in Syria, said Amnesty International.
“By vetoing this resolution Russia and China have displayed a callous disregard for the lives of millions of Syrians. Both states are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention– there is simply no excuse for their vetoes today,” said Sherine Tadros, head of UN office in New York for Amnesty International.
“For six years Russia, with the support of China, has blocked Security Council decisions that would have punitive consequences for the Syrian government. This behavior prevents justice and emboldens all parties to the conflict in Syria to act with indifference to international law. The message coming from the international community is that when it comes to Syria, there are no red lines.”
A chilling new report by Amnesty International exposes the Syrian government’s calculated campaign of extrajudicial executions by mass hangings at Saydnaya Prison. Between 2011 and 2015, every week and often twice a week, groups of up to 50 people were taken out of their prison cells and hanged to death. In five years, as many as 13,000 people, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at Saydnaya.
Human slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, Syria also shows that the government is deliberately inflicting inhuman conditions on detainees at Saydnaya Prison through repeated torture and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. The report documents how these extermination policies have killed massive numbers of detainees.
These practices, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, are authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.
Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of Amnesty International supporters worldwide who took action on the crisis in Syria over the last week. Evacuations from Aleppo are nearly complete and the UN Security Council has agreed to urgently deploy monitors to the ground. We have only been able to do this with your support, every action that was taken has helped ensure that civilians in Aleppo are protected.
We’ve finally seen an important break through on all the work that Amnesty International has been doing on Syria; on December 20th the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing an independent international mechanism to ensure accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committees in Syria since March 2011. This is the first step towards justice for the thousands of victims in Syrian crisis.