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Syria: UN Security Council must not squander opportunity to save civilian lives

25th June 2015, 16:02:31 UTC

Security Council members should use a meeting with NGOs at the United Nations on 26 June to agree upon steps they will take to enforce Security Council resolution 2139, which calls for an end to indiscriminate and direct attacks against civilians in Syria, said Amnesty International.

The organisation is urging the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government and targeted sanctions against individuals on all sides responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Such measures could help end barrel bomb and hell-canon attacks against civilians as well as any use of chlorine and other toxic chemicals as weapons.

“A year and a half ago the Security Council made a commitment to take further steps if resolution 2139 was violated by parties to the conflict. The fact that indiscriminate attacks and other violations have continued unabated across Syria since then shows that it has been consistently and flagrantly flouted,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

The fact that indiscriminate attacks and other violations have continued unabated across Syria since then shows that it has been consistently and flagrantly flouted

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland

“Unless resolution 2139 is enforced, Syria’s civilians will continue to be trapped in an endless cycle of bloodshed caused by the unlawful use of explosive weapons such as barrel bombs.”

The Security Council has already imposed arms embargoes on the armed groups known as Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. Its resolution 2139 also calls for the release of those detained unlawfully and for all sides to facilitate the delivery of much needed humanitarian aid.

Amnesty International is also calling on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Such actions would punish perpetrators, provide a measure of justice for victims, and deter future violations, including unlawful attacks using barrel bombs and chemical attacks.

In a report published in May 2015, Amnesty International highlighted the devastation and horror caused in Aleppo by barrel bombs – unguided, locally produced explosive bombs dropped by Syrian government helicopters – which often strike hospitals, schools and other crowded civilian areas. The report concluded that these bombings were committed as part of a widespread attack against the civilian population and in furtherance of a state policy. It is therefore Amnesty International’s assessment that these attacks amount to crimes against humanity.

Such attacks continue to take place regularly across Syria. Last week barrel bombs destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières facility, Busra hospital in Dera’a, southern Syria.

Earlier this week, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria, denounced continuing attacks on civilians in the country, which he said are causing “unspeakable suffering”.

“Some Security Council members, UN member states and the UN Special Envoy to Syria have recently been vocal in criticizing the indiscriminate use of weapons in Syria, but condemnation is not enough. There are concrete actions the UN can and should take to reduce and deter violations against civilians,” said Colm O’Gorman.

“Russia, which has blocked previous Security Council action against Syrian government violations, supported resolution 2139 and must not stand in the way of enforcing it to protect civilians.”

The UN “Arria-formula” meeting convened by France and Spain on 26 June offers a rare opportunity for Security Council members to hear from NGOs who have been documenting the devastating impact of the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons and to address accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed in Syria.

The Security Council should also take further measures to implement resolution 2209 – which was adopted after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that chlorine has been used as a weapon in Syria – in light of the Syrian government’s continued failure to comply with the prohibition on the use of such chemical weapons. The resolution also allows the Security Council to take measures, including economic sanctions and military action, to enforce its resolutions, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.