The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [OHC profile], on Friday urged [UN report] warring parties in Syria to take any steps necessary in protecting the civilian population during armed conflict. Many innocent civilians have already been second-hand victims. Earlier in May airstrikes hit a rural farming area killing 23 farm workers. Airstrikes in residential areas have taken the lives of 59 civilians, including 16 children and 12 women, and injured another 70 bystanders. During an attack on a government controlled village, Islamic State (IS) militants took the lives an additional 36 civilians. While many have died as a result of snipers and crossfire, some have had their throats cut and faced other abusive treatment. Under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict must practice principles of distinction and consider the proportionality of their attacks to prevent the loss of innocent lives.
The rising toll of civilian deaths and injuries already caused by airstrikes in Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Raqqa suggests that insufficient precautions may have been taken in the attacks. Just because ISIL holds an area does not mean less care can be taken. Civilians should always be protected, whether they are in areas controlled by ISIL or by any other party.
Zeid also noted that many civilians are being prevented from leaving ISIL-held areas which increases their risk in relation to the conflict.
The war in Syria [JURIST backgrounder] continues to have a devastating impact on the country. Earlier this month the US House of Representatives passed a bill [JURIST report] to impose sanctions on supporters of Syria’s Assad regime. Also in May Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported new evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in at least four recent attacks [JURIST report] targeting civilians. In April the UN Security Council [official website] conducted emergency talks regarding an alleged chemical attack in Syria that killed numerous civilians [JURIST report]. That same month, Russia vetoed [JURIST report] a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Syrian president Bashar al-Assad‘s use of neurological gas against a Syrian town. Also that month, the US military attacked Syria-government airfield with 59 Tomahawk missiles [CNBC News]. In February HRW first report that the Syrian government conducted [JURIST report] “coordinated chemical attacks” on rebel-controlled portions of Aleppo. In the same month, more than 13,000 prisoners were hanged [JURIST report] in extrajudicial executions over a 5-year period at Saydnaya prison.