Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Syria: Syrian opposition must act urgently to rein in armed groups amid spiralling abuses

Source: Amnesty

Syria’s new opposition leadership must act to monitor and prevent violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) by opposition forces, Amnesty International said today.

The organization urged the newly established National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and the new leadership of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Syria main opposition group in exile, to set up effective oversight mechanisms to monitor the conduct of armed opposition groups, with a view to preventing further war crimes and other abuses.

The organization also reiterated its call on the Syrian government, whose armed forces and paramilitary militias are responsible for most of the violations, to put an immediate end to the increasingly frequent attacks against civilians not involved in the conflict, notably through indiscriminate air bombardments – including with internationally banned cluster bombs - and artillery shelling.

Commanders and others in a position of authority may be held criminally responsible if they fail to prevent war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law. Fighters on all sides must be made aware that they will not be able to hide behind the excuse that they were ‘just following orders’ and that they will be made to answer for their actions, the organization said.

The fighting continues to put civilian lives at serious risk, in particular given the Syrian armed forces’ indiscriminate air bombardment and artillery shelling of heavily populated residential areas and their use of inherently indiscriminate and internationally banned weapons, such as cluster bombs.

Meanwhile, opposition forces have been seizing significant quantities of heavier weapons from government military positions they have recently overrun, and have often been using these weapons in a reckless manner which endangers civilian residents.

The spiralling violence has caused a refugee crisis – on 9 November the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced a surge in the number of Syrians seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, with some 11,000 people fleeing the conflict in a 24-hour period. In addition to more than 300,000 Syrians who have fled the country, well over one million others have been displaced by the fighting but remain in Syria, many in desperate humanitarian conditions.

Amnesty International said that the massive and unabated displacement of civilians from their homes was a clear measure of the severity of the crisis faced by the new opposition leadership which is calling on the international community for support in their uprising against the Syrian government’s continuing repressive measures. The organization called for the new leadership to show, both in word and deed, that they will not tolerate further abuses by armed opposition.