Civilians Must Not Be Targeted In Syria


In recent days, several governments have signalled their intention to take military action against the Syrian government, which they hold responsible for the alleged recent chemical weapons attacks.

This week Australia takes its seat as president of the UN Security Council during what could be the body’s final opportunity to stem the loss of civilian life in Syria.

The horrific scenes in the dozens of videos I have watched from those incidents are some of the most haunting I have witnessed during this long and brutal conflict.

Although the British Parliament voted against military intervention, a second round vote may still take place this week. International sentiment remains clear, as these shocking images reverberate.

President Barack Obama has said that the US is ready to strike and will continue to be ready as he seeks congressional authorisation for the use of military force.

So now the spectre of an international armed conflict looms between the Syrian government and foreign military forces.

The protection of civilians is a key priority for Amnesty International and that is why we are urging all those who may be involved to comply with international humanitarian law.

In particular, all sides of the conflict must do everything in their power to protect civilians. They must not carry out indiscriminate attacks, or use weapons which are prohibited under international humanitarian law, including cluster munitions.

The joint UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been trying to convene an international conference based on the Geneva Communiqué to resolve the crisis. However, deadlock at the UN Security Council has so far prevented attempts to resolve this brutal and bloody conflict.

The Syrian government has felt free to carry on committing the most sickening violations of human rights, such as launching ballistic missiles at civilian areas, seemingly confident they will be protected by allies such as Russia and China, two countries which appear to be mistaking callousness for high principles.

Unless that dynamic changes and effective pressure is applied on all parties, it is extremely difficult to see how negotiations alone will resolve this crisis.

Targeted sanctions, namely a freeze on the assets of President Bashar al-Assad and others who may be involved in ordering or perpetrating crimes under international law, a referral to the International Criminal Court and the deployment of an international human rights monitoring mission would go some way to contributing to meaningful negotiations aimed at a solution that respects the human rights, and indeed the lives of all Syrians.

The international community also needs to take urgent steps to ease the crippling humanitarian situation inside the country, where more than 4.25 million people are believed to be displaced.

In particular, it should ensure that all parties to the armed conflict in Syria allow unfettered access to humanitarian organisations and agencies to provide assistance to a civilian population desperate for relief. As for the Syrian government, they really need to allow cross-border access, as well as cross-line access, and they need to do that quickly.

As my colleague Cilina Nasser recently said: “We are beyond hand-wringing on Syria. Civilians continue to be targeted or killed indiscriminately. The time for action is now.”

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.