Violation of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Abuses by Belligerents of the Syrian Civil War and Protection and Aid for Affected Civilians

March 30, 2018

The horrifying civil war that has raged on since 2011 in Syria left a deep scar among many of its denizens, literally and metaphorically. This conflict, which has caused a major refugee crisis primarily situated in the Arabian Peninsula and mainland Europe, is fought by several factions with differing goals and ideologies: the Syrian government and its allies, the Syrian opposition (which included the Free Syrian Army and other Sunni rebel and Salafi jihadist groups), the Western-backed majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). These factions are accused by international organizations of severe human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law; Amnesty International and the proopposition Syrian Network for Human Rights deemed the Syrian government and its allies as the main contributors of abuses that are being carried out in the war.

 

In report A/HRC/34/CRP.3 of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Independent International Commission on Inquiry of the Syrian Arab Republic (here on in known as “the Commission”), they have concluded that “warring parties continued to resort to tactics of war that violate basic principles of international humanitarian law with disastrous consequences for civilians with women, children, and elderly persons being disproportionately affected by armed violence.” For an instance, pro-Government forces have targeted barrel bombs at crucial civilian structures that provided essential services to the populations including hospitals, schools, and water sources; as a result, especially because of deliberate targeting of medical facilities and workers by pro-Government forces has led to a severely deteriorated health-care infrastructure, which stooped to impossibly low-levels after almost six years of non-stop conflicts.

 

These acts can be seen as a violation of Article 52 of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s Protocol I, in which paragraph 1 stated that civilian objects “shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals. Civilian objects which are not military objects as defined in paragraph 2.” While several media have speculated that the facilities are being used as military strongholds, in which paragraph 2 of Article 52 stated that military objects are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage and thus are eligible to be targets of military attacks, investigations by the Commission and Human Rights Watch ruled that no evidence supporting the idea of the targeted objects being actively contributive to military efforts had been found. Other notable violations committed by pro-Government forces was the usage of chemical weapons such as chlorine and phosgene gas, widespread and systematic use of torture, sexual violence and rape, and use of starvation and terror as a means of war in the areas where they have been enforcing ferocious sieges.

 

In a different side, the Commission also has discovered numerous humanitarian law violations carried out by opposition forces, in contrast to opinions articulated by pro-Rebel groups media. Armed rebel groups launched indiscriminate attacks with indirect fire artillery systems, including with unguided, locally manufactured weapons, killing and maiming civilians, many of them children, in Government-controlled areas of Aleppo, Idlib and Dara’a governorates. Armed groups based in Idlib further exacted justice through the use of shari’a courts lacking fair trial and due process standards, while in other governorates armed groups conducted arbitrary arrests, detentions, enforced disappearances and committed torture. Indiscriminate attacks including the use of car bombs killed and maimed scores of civilians.

 

The group Jabhet Fatah el-Sham (now known as Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham), who held areas in Idlib and some areas in Quneitra Governorate, carried out summary executions such as the stoning of women accused of extramarital relations. The group continued its practice of recruiting and using children, some younger than fifteen, throughout Idlib governorate. The Jabhet Fatah el-Sham also coordinated attacks with armed groups by launching indirect artillery fire which resulted in dozens of civilian casualties including of many children.

 

In the ISIL-controlled territory, civilians continue to fall victim to the terrorist group’s extreme ideology. The self-proclaimed caliphate often applies the death penalty for violations of its strict rules, resulting in brutal public executions. Women and girls accused of adultery are stoned to death and homosexual men and boys were thrown from high-buildings. The group also used civilians for military purposes as demonstrated by its use of hundreds of civilians as human shields during its retreat from Minbij. During its brief retake of Palmyra, ISIL once again detonated a cultural heritage site, partially destroying an ancient Tetrapylon and damaging an ancient Roman amphitheatre, following a pattern of attacking ancient cultural sites of invaluable cultural and historical significance.

 

Across northern Syria, SDF or YPG forces displaced communities in order to clear areas mined by ISIL during their withdrawal. In some cases, SDF or YPG forces did not provide adequate humanitarian aid such as tents or water to displaced communities. YPG forces further continue forced conscription of men and boys for military service.

 

Operations carried out by the US-led international coalition (Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve) have in some cases harmed civilians during airstrikes, although to date the coalition is the only belligerent to provide regular public assessments of its own conduct in relation to civilian protection. Over the period under review, the number of CJTF-OIR member states that carried out airstrikes or deploying ground forces on Syria’s territory increased, raising concerns regarding the conflict’s escalation and the potential to aggravate civilian harm.

 

As a response to these grievous acts of war crimes, the Commission released several recommendations towards all belligerents of the Syrian Civil War, which when summarized is demanding them to fully abide human rights and international humanitarian law (particularly the ICHR and Geneva Conventions along with its protocols), strengthening measures taken against terrorist activities, and continuing to pursue and engage a political dialogue to end the conflict that ravaged the Syrian Arab Republic. The Commission urged the international community to refrain from arming, funding, or supporting by other means parties of the conflict when there are suspicions that those supports will be used to violate human rights and international humanitarian laws, reinforce international legal framework on civilian protection, sustain and expand funding on humanitarian aids, and protect the human rights of all persons, including migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. The Commission also recommended the Human Rights Council, General Assembly, and Security Council to support its recommendations and include briefings of the Commission as part of their formal agenda.

 

In regards to report A/HRC/34/CRP.3 of the Syrian Inquiry Commission, the author urges citizens of Indonesia, Asia, and the world as a whole to respect the recommendations released by the Commission, especially in regards to the support of parties in the Syrian conflict (particularly armed groups such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIL), funding of humanitarian aids towards victims of the civil war, and protecting the livelihood of Syrian migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. For Indonesians, funding terrorist activities is an offence regulated in Law No. 9/2013, in which its Fourth Article stated that:

 

“Anyone who purposely provide, gather, lend, or give funds that are wholly or partially used for terrorism, terror groups, and terrorists, are to be sentenced with maximum 15 years of imprisonment and fined up to Rp1,000,000.00 (one billion Rupiah).”

 

Rather than giving away our money to organizations or individuals that would potentially carry out violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as responsible citizens we should instead support humanitarian aids for affected and displaced victims of the Syrian civil war through donations toward local Red Cross or Red Crescent societies or other trusted humanitarian aid organizations and charities dedicated to aiding those affected by the Civil War. Our help could also be extended to local refugee camps that house migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees from Syria and other countries affected by internal conflicts. Even if we can’t provide monetary aid, donating our unused possessions such as clothes and other basic needs or even participating intending to their needs will be a great help towards their livelihood.

 

Sources:

 

Human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations in the Syrian Arab Republic, 21 July 2016- 28 February 2017. Conference room paper of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Republic of the United Nations Human Rights Council (report A/HRC/34/CRP.3).

 

Al-Marsad Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights. The Syrian Situation – International Humanitarian Law Violations and the Call for Justice. 2016.

 

 

Agence France-Presse. UN must refer Syria war crimes to ICC: Amnesty. www.globalpost.com accessed on 31 July 2017. < http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130313/un-mustrefer-syria-war-crimes-icc-amnesty>

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