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Syria has been the victim of massive human rights violations as government security forces have responded to protests with extreme violence. According to the UN, the estimated civilian death toll is over 9,000, with evidence of systematic acts of brutality, including torture and arbitrary arrests. This indicates that the Syrian military and government are conducting a clear policy of crimes against humanity.
This folder provides an overview of the government’s crimes, the international community’s responses to the crisis, helpful information provided by various NGOs, and a video report from the Syrian frontline.
Crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Syrian government:
Use of excessive force against protesters: As of March 2012, over 9,000 people have died since the beginning of the conflict, including children. Many thousands more have been wounded, arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and have disappeared as protesters and their families have been targeted. Sources in Syria are consistently reporting the use of artillery fire against unarmed civilians, door-to-door arrest campaigns, the shooting of medical personnel who attempt to aid the wounded, raids against hospitals, clinics and mosques and the purposeful destruction of medical supplies and arrest of medical personnel.
“Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic” Human Rights Council, 17th special session, Nov. 23rd, 2011
“Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers” Amnesty International, 2011
“By All Means Necessary! Individual and Command Responsibility for Crimes Against Humanity in Syria” Human Rights Watch, Dec. 15th, 2011
“Syria: Stop Torture of Children – Security Forces Detain Juveniles, Occupy Schools” Human Rights Watch, Feb. 3rd, 2012
Access to vital resources and humanitarian groups denied: President Assad compromised civilian access to food, water and medical supplies when he deployed troops and tanks to meet protesters. Civilian access to hospitals is also limited by the ongoing violence and government control of medical staff and facilities. President Assad also blocked outside humanitarian and human rights groups from access to the Syria. Information from within Syria on the state of the crisis remains limited due to the refusal to permit entry to journalists as well as the crack-down on the use of internet and social media.
“Bashar al Assad: Criminal Against Humanity” International Federation for Human Rights, Jul. 28th, 2011
“Seeking to Disrupt Protesters, Syria Cracks Down on Social Media” article for the New York Times by Jennifer Preston, May 22nd, 2011
Access to monitoring groups denied: On December 19th, 2012, the Syrian government agreed to allow an independent monitoring mission full freedom of movement within the country. Shortly after the mission began, however, reports emerged stating that the government was obstructing monitors’ access. On December 27th, Human Rights Watch reported that Syrian security forces were moving detainees to military sites where access to monitors would not be readily provided. In addition, some military personnel had been given police identification cards. Syrian activists also claimed that the government was deceiving observers by painting military vehicles to look like police cars and taking observers to areas loyal to the government.
Responses to the Syrian Government’s Use of Force
The international community grew increasingly alarmed as the violence in Syria escalated. Copared to the crisis in Libya, however, regional and international organizations were more hesitant in responding to the political and humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The League of Arab States initially remained passive in its response, stressing that it would not take action itself in response to the crisis, but condemning the use of violence against protesters in Arab countries. As the conflict wore on, the League adopted a stronger position, urging President Assad to stop all violent attacks on civilians. On November 12th, 2011, the League suspended Syria’s membership and imposed economic sanctions on November 27th. On December 19th, Syria signed an agreement to allow an Arab observer mission for one month. Following the mission, Arab leaders extended the mission’s mandate and called on President Assad to cede power to his vice president and form a national unity government, a plan which was immediately rejected by the Syrian regime. The observer mission was suspended due to critical worsening conditions. Arab leaders agreed to open contact with Syrian opposition leaders on February 12th, 2012, and asked the United Nations to form a joint peacekeeping force to halt the violence.
“Arab League suspends Syria as global pressure rises” Reuters, Nov. 12th, 2011
“Syria unrest: Arab League adopts sanctions in Cairo” BBC News, Nov. 27th, 2011
“Syria rejects Arab League plan for Assad to step down” BBC News, Jan. 23rd, 2012
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, issued a statement recalling their envoys and expelling Syrian ambassadors on February 7th, 2012. The statement was a strong condemnation of “the mass slaughter against the unarmed Syrian people” and urged Arab leaders to take “decisive measures in response to this dangerous escalation against the Syrian people.”
The European Union (EU) announced on May 9th, 2011 that it would impose an arms embargo on Syria. On August 1st, it reminded the Syrian government of “its responsibility to protect the population” and adopted a ban on oil imports to increase pressure on the regime on September 2nd. The EU gave its support to the Arab League’s call for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping force on February 13th, 2012.
United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): A special session of the HRC was held on April 29th, 2011, in which a resolution that condemned the crackdown and called for the OHCHR to dispatch a fact-finding mission to investigate into human rights violations was adopted. The mission was launched on March 15th and released its findings six months later: It found widespread and systematic attacks against the Syrian population that could amount to crimes against humanity, including murder, disappearance and torture, as well as the deprivation of liberty and persecution. On September 19th, High Commissioner Navi Pillay urged the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a recommendation she reiterated on December 12th as she warned that Syria was at risk of civil war.
“Human Rights Council passes resolution on Syrian Arab Republic in Special Session” United Nations OHCHR, Apr. 29th, 2011
“Syrian forces have committed crimes against humanity – UN rights panel” UN News Centre, Nov. 28th, 2011
As one of the few international journalists who reported from the frontline, James Bays talks to Al Jazeera’s The Stream about what he recently witnessed on the ground in Syria. His reporting provides an exclusive look into the makeup of the Free Syrian Army and the humanitarian situation on the ground.
How to help:
Give to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Your donation will help to:
• supply the 1.5 million Syrians who left their homes with food
• bring medical care to those in need, whether in Syria or at the borders
• help displaced people to meet minimum standards of hygiene
• organize war-surgery training for doctors who treat Syrian casualties in Lebanon
Aljazeera News Coverage of Events in Syria: "Inside Syria"