Amnesty International USA Welcomes Proposed Steps to Remove Chemical Weapons in Syria, Urges International Action to Address Needs of Millions of Civilians

Press Release
September 10, 2013

Amnesty International USA Welcomes Proposed Steps to Remove Chemical Weapons in Syria, Urges International Action to Address Needs of Millions of Civilians

Group Outlines Six Steps to Save Lives in Syria

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

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – As diplomats explored alternatives to a U.S. military strike on Syria in response to its use of banned chemical weapons, Amnesty International USA said today governments should seize the opportunity to coalesce around six key steps needed to save lives and achieve justice for the victims. These include an arms embargo, the deployment of human rights monitors, the freezing of President Assad's assets, help in resettling refugees, and prosecution of war crimes and other crimes against humanity.

"Amnesty International welcomes steps that would lead to the removal or destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, given that they are internationally banned and their use is a war crime," said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director, Amnesty International USA. "Taking this initiative to the U.N. Security Council offers an opportunity for the international community to take other concrete action to stop the flow of conventional weapons that have caused the vast majority of civilian deaths, refer the situation for criminal investigation, and demand unfettered access for the U.N.-mandated Commission of Inquiry."

The organization repeated its call for an urgent response to the spiraling humanitarian crisis that has now devastated nearly one-third of the Syrian population – more than six million people, who are either displaced internally or have fled over national borders as refugees.

"The world must expand its assistance so those who have escaped with their lives can live safely and in dignity," said Jannuzi. "Supporting the refugees is unquestionably something governments can do and must do."

The United Nations estimates that almost $3 billion is needed to meet the demands of 2 million refugees. While the United States, Kuwait,European Commission and the United Kingdom have been among the largest funders, the U.N.'s humanitarian appeal for the Syrian crisis – the largest in its history -- is currently only 40 percent funded. Other countries with the means to do so must scale up their contributions to achieve the goal of sustained, long-term support to meet the crisis, Amnesty said.

The group also said neighboring countries must keep their borders open at all times to anyone fleeing Syria and there must be greater sharing of responsibility among the rest of the international community for refugees in tangible terms, including resettlement.

In addition to Amnesty's ongoing call to the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, the organization also called on governments worldwide to investigate and prosecute those responsible for war crimes and other crimes against humanity, including by seeking to exercise universal jurisdiction in national courts.

Lastly, the organization called for the deployment of human rights monitors, urged an arms embargo on the Syrian government and to armed opposition groups where there is a substantial risk of the group committing serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and the freezing of President Assad's and his close associates' assets in overseas banks.

Jannuzi said: "The international community should have rallied sooner to respond to the brutality, mass displacement and deep suffering, but this is truly a case where late is better than never."

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.