Syria: New Air, Missile Strikes Kill Civilians
Human Rights Watch
26 April 2013
New Syrian government air and missile strikes are causing high civilian casualties in opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. A Human Rights Watch team in northern Aleppo province has investigated recent attacks that killed scores of civilians and destroyed dozens of civilian homes without damaging any apparent opposition military targets.
The information collected by Human Rights Watch shows that the Syrian government continues to use banned cluster bombs and indiscriminate methods of attack in populated areas, making the airstrikes unlawful. These attacks are serious violations of international humanitarian law and the laws of war. Those who order or carry out such violations with criminal intent – that is, deliberately or recklessly – are responsible for war crimes.
“In attack after attack in Aleppo it is only civilians and civilian homes that are hit by government airstrikes,” said Anna Neistat, associate program and emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “The Syrian Air Force knows very well that using cluster bombs and raining down missiles and bombs indiscriminately on urban areas violates the laws of war.”(…)
The recent attacks documented by Human Rights Watch follow the same pattern as the 59 attacks described in a recent report, “Death from the Skies: Deliberate and Indiscriminate Air Strikes on Civilians.” In its investigation of dozens of attacks in that report, Human Rights Watch concluded that Syrian forces used means and methods of warfare that under the circumstances could not distinguish between civilians and combatants, making attacks indiscriminate and therefore unlawful. Some attacks appeared to target civilians and civilian structures deliberately or did not target an apparent military objective. (…)
In all the new cases, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the only people killed or injured by the strikes had been civilians, and that only civilian buildings had been hit. A casualty database compiled by the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a Syrian monitoring group working in coordination with a network of Syrian opposition activists, also lists only civilians among the casualties.
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 should take all feasible measures to avoid deploying forces and military structures such as bases or headquarters in or near densely populated areas. However, an attacking party is not relieved of 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.
The attacks documented by Human Rights Watch represent a small fraction of the total number of air and missile strikes by government forces in the last month. According to VDC casualty lists, there were almost daily airstrikes, resulting in at least 355 civilian casualties from March 18 to April 22. The VDC does not compile separate statistics for missile strikes, but during a mission to Syria in February, Human Rights Watch documented four missile strikes that month that killed more than 140 civilians, approximately half of them children.
“Governments that claim to support human rights should make it clear that Syria’s indiscriminate airstrikes on its own people need to end,” Neistat said. “They must ensure that those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice and that means referring Syria to the International Criminal Court now.” (…)
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