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Syria: Aerial Attacks Strike Civilians
Human Rights Watch
11 April 2013
The Syrian Air Force has repeatedly carried out indiscriminate, and in some cases deliberate, air strikes against civilians. These attacks are serious violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war), and people who commit such violations with criminal intent are responsible for war crimes.
The 80-page report, “Death from the Skies: Deliberate and Indiscriminate Air Strikes on Civilians,” is based on visits to 50 sites of government air strikes in opposition-controlled areas in Aleppo, Idlib, and Latakia governorates, and more than 140 interviews with witnesses and victims. The air strikes Human Rights Watch documented killed at least 152 civilians. According to a network of local Syrian activists, air strikes have killed more than 4,300 civilians across Syria since July 2012. (…)
Media reports, YouTube videos, and information from opposition activists show that the Syrian government has conducted air strikes all over Syria on a daily basis since July 2012.
Through the on-site investigations and interviews, Human Rights Watch gathered information that indicates government forces  deliberately targeted four bakeries where civilians were waiting in breadlines a total of eight times,  and hit other bakeries with artillery attacks. Repeated aerial attacks on two hospitals in the areas Human Rights Watch visited strongly suggest that the government also deliberately targeted these facilities. At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visits to the two hospitals they had been attacked a total of seven times.

In addition to the attacks on the bakeries and hospitals, Human Rights Watch concluded in 44 other cases that air strikes were unlawful under the laws of war. Syrian forces used means and methods of warfare, such as unguided bombs dropped by high-flying helicopters, that under the circumstances could not distinguish between civilians and combatants, and thus were indiscriminate.

In the strikes Human Rights Watch investigated, despite high civilian casualties, damage to opposition headquarters and other possible military structures was minimal. As far as Human Rights Watch could establish, there were no casualties among opposition fighters. (…)

The government’s use of unlawful means of attack has also included cluster munitions, weapons that have been banned by most nations because of their indiscriminate nature. Human Rights Watch has documented government use of more than 150 cluster bombs in 119 locations since October 2012. Human Rights Watch also documented that the government used incendiary weapons, which should, at a minimum, be banned in populated areas.

The obligation to minimize harm to the civilian population applies to all parties to a conflict. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other Syrian armed opposition groups did not take all feasible measures to avoid deploying forces and structures such as headquarters in or near densely populated areas. However, an attacking party is not relieved from the obligation to take into account the risk to civilians from an attack on the grounds that the defending party has located military targets within or near populated areas. (…)

Human Rights Watch believes this report should galvanize international efforts to end deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate air strikes and other attacks on civilians, including all use of cluster munitions, ballistic missiles, incendiary weapons, and explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.  (…)

In addition, Human Rights Watch calls on governments and companies to immediately stop selling or supplying weapons, ammunition, and material to Syria, given compelling evidence that the Syrian government is committing crimes against humanity, until Syria stops committing these crimes. (…)

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