The lives of millions of Syrian civilians hang in the balance as the Presidents of Russia and the USA prepare to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany today, to discuss counter-terrorism initiatives and a political resolution to Syria’s war, said Amnesty International.
“For civilians in Syria, decisions made by President Trump and President Putin are a matter of life and death. A continuation of present policies would have disastrous consequences for the people of Syria, who have endured unimaginable suffering for more than six years. The USA and Russia must publicly commit to protecting civilians in Syria and to ending human rights violations by their own forces as well as by the warring parties on the ground. Both countries and their allies are responsible for the deaths and injuries of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. It is time to end the bloodshed,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
Since the onset of the Syrian crisis, Amnesty International has documented violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Syrian government forces, with the support of Russia, have attacked and bombed civilians, killing and injuring thousands; maintained lengthy sieges on civilian areas; subjected tens of thousands to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions; and systematically tortured and otherwise ill-treated detainees, causing countless deaths in custody. Armed groups have indiscriminately shelled and besieged predominantly civilian areas, and committed abductions, torture and summary killings.
In a report released in February 2017, Amnesty International uncovered a campaign of mass killings inside Saydnaya Prison in Syria, where thousands of people were being hanged in secret by the Syrian government. Despite global outrage, independent monitors are still not allowed by the Syrian government to visit any places of detention in Syria.
“It is not enough for US leaders and lawmakers to have expressed concern over the situation inside Saydnaya Prison. They must do more to help end the longstanding scourge of industrial-scale torture of detainees in Syria. The Trump administration must pressure Russia to use its influence over the Syrian government and allow for monitors inside Saydnaya Prison and other places of detention,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Even before its air campaign in support of government forces began September 2015, Russia has been the Syrian government’s main ally, providing it with military support, arms and political cover at the UN Security Council. In the northern part of Aleppo countryside, the Russian air force bombed hospitals to pave the way for the Syrian army. Russia has also blocked seven UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions that would have ensured accountability for war crimes, such as the use of chemical weapons, by the Syrian government and armed groups fighting in Syria.
“Russia’s abuse of its UN Security Council veto has emboldened the Syrian government, as well as other parties involved in the fighting in Syria to commit crimes under international law with complete impunity. As the USA and Russia discuss the political process that could lead to peace in Syria, they must put accountability at the centre of the discussion. If justice for the Syrian people is not allowed to take its course, the seeds of renewed conflict and future atrocities will always be there,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Amnesty International has also called on the USA to conduct prompt, impartial investigations into violations by the US-led coalition in Syria and publicly disclose their findings. Amnesty international recently documented the unlawful use of white phosphorus by US forces over densely populated civilian areas in Raqqa, a clear violation of international humanitarian law that may amount to a war crime.