Ahead of Friends of Syria Meeting Friday in Paris, Decisive International Action on Syria Needed to Quell Alarming Increase in Violence

Press Release
July 5, 2012

Ahead of Friends of Syria Meeting Friday in Paris, Decisive International Action on Syria Needed to Quell Alarming Increase in Violence

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – Ahead of the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris on Friday, Amnesty International today called for decisive steps from the international community to end the increasingly bloody repression and abuse in Syria as the armed conflict threatens to spread and intensify.

Amnesty International again called for an immediate arms embargo on weapons being sent to the Syrian government, the freezing of President Bashar al-Assad’s assets and the referral by the U.N. Security Council of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

Sanjeev Bery, Amnesty International advocacy director on the Middle East in Washington DC, said: “How many more Syrians have to die before the world responds? For 16 months, the international community has remained paralyzed while more than 12,000 people have been killed. The Friends of Syria must leave Paris with a solid plan to end these horrific human rights violations and make absolutely certain that the victims and their families receive justice and reparations.”

Amid growing reports of abuses by members of the armed opposition, Amnesty International also called for governments to stop arms transfers to the opposition, wherever there is a substantial risk they are likely to be used for war crimes or other human rights abuses.

Amnesty International is also calling for a dedicated human rights monitoring presense in Syria to monitor, investigate and publicly report on crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave human rights abuses committed by all sides.

The Friends of Syria, led by Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, the United States and Saudi Arabia, is a contact group that brings together officials from international organizations and more than 60 countries, including most European Union and Arab League members. It seeks to coordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop the violence in Syria.

Amnesty International believes that any state considering the supply of arms to opposition fighters for the protection of civilians must carry out rigorous risk assessments based on objective information to ensure there is not a substantial risk those arms would be used to commit or facilitate crimes under international law. If there is a substantial risk that arms will be used to commit war crimes or other serious abuses, those transfers must be stopped.

This 'Golden Rule' for regulating arms transfers is at the core of U.N. negotiations on a comprehensive global Arms Trade Treaty, currently under way in New York.

Russia, who along with China has twice vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria and is the Syrian government's largest arms supplier, has said it will not attend the Paris meeting.

Abuses by both sides

While the overwhelming majority of crimes have been committed by Syrian security forces during more than 16 months of protest and unrest, Amnesty International has received increasing numbers of reports of serious abuses, including possible war crimes by some members of armed opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Amnesty International is looking into reports that members of armed opposition groups have been responsible for summary executions of captured members of the security forces and other unlawful killings, abductions of civilians, torture and other ill-treatment, use of children in hostilities and the reckless use and storage of arms.

In situations of armed conflict, all parties, including armed opposition groups, are legally bound by the rules of international humanitarian law. Serious violations of this law are war crimes.

Amnesty International has documented crimes against humanity taking place in Syria since early on in the government’s crackdown last year. With intensified fighting between state forces and armed opposition groups in recent months, there is increasing evidence of war crimes being carried out.

If the U.N. Security Council refers the situation in Syria to the ICC, those responsible for the most serious crimes under international law on both sides could face investigation and prosecution.

Amnesty International urged the Friends of Syria governments to fulfill their shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law committed in Syria and seek to exercise universal jurisdiction over these crimes before their national courts in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

By setting up joint international investigation and prosecution teams, the Friends of Syria governments would improve the effectiveness of investigations, the possibility of arrests and the co-ordination of prosecutions.

The organization also said that any peace plan on Syria must exclude the possibility of amnesties or similar measures being issued for crimes under international law.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.