Anticipated Syrian Clash in Aleppo Raises War Crimes Concerns
Washington, DC – Today’s helicopter attacks on neighborhoods in Aleppo appear to be the beginning of a broader assault by Syrian Army forces on that heavily populated city. Human Rights First today said past experience points to a high risk that war crimes may be committed against the civilian population there, noting that the Syrian army has mobilized tanks on the outskirts of Aleppo and antigovernment fighters are also preparing for battle. As major confrontation looms, Human Rights First calls on all parties to the conflict to abide by international human rights law and international humanitarian law obligations to refrain from targeting civilians and from conducting attacks that would result in disproportionate civilian harm, and to take adequate precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described an ominous and “discernible pattern” as Syrian government forces carry out attacks on opposition-held areas: “Typically, during the initial stages, after a village or urban district has been surrounded, water, electricity and food supplies are cut. This is followed by intense shelling and bombardment by a variety of weaponry, increasingly with air support from attack helicopters, and now reportedly even jet aircraft. Then tanks move in, followed by ground forces who proceed door-to-door and reportedly often summarily execute people they suspect of being opposition fighters, although sometimes they detain them. The bodies of those executed or otherwise killed are then sometimes burned or taken away.” “Reports of widespread, systematic and grave violations of international law by both sides of the conflict have already emerged, including reports of torture and murder of prisoners by both sides and use of excessive force by authorities in reaction to unrest in Aleppo,” noted Human Rights First’s Gabor Rona. “Though air attacks by government forces have begun, and skirmishes have already erupted in various enclaves of Aleppo, it is not too late to prevent atrocities in Aleppo.” Human Rights First has already called upon the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. “It must be made clear to all parties to the conflict that there will be no impunity for anyone responsible for mass atrocities,” Rona concluded.