THE IMPERATIVE TO PROTECT CIVILIANS
11 September 2013
The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has taken a dangerous turn. The majority of casualties result from unlawful attacks using conventional weapons. Nevertheless, the debate over what international action to take, if any, has assumed new urgency following the alleged use of chemical weapons in August. As stated by the Secretary-General in a press conference on 9 September, there is a need for accountability, “both to bring to justice those who used them – should Dr. Sellström confirm their use – and to deter anyone else from using these abhorrent methods of warfare”.
As detailed in the Commission’s most recent report, released today, with fighting raging between Government forces, pro-Government forces, anti-Government armed groups and Kurdish armed groups, it is civilians who continue to pay the price for the failure to negotiate an end to this conflict. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost. Over six million Syrians have fled their homes, each with a story of devastation and loss. Entire communities now live in tents or containers outside Syria’s borders, with millions more displaced inside Syria. A society has been ripped apart.
Failure to bring about a political settlement has allowed the conflict not only to deepen in its intransigence but also to widen – expanding to new actors and to new, previously unimaginable crimes. For the Commission, charged with investigating violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict, any response must be founded upon the protection of civilians. The nature of the war raging in Syria is such that the number of violations by all sides goes hand in hand with the intensity of the conflict itself. With the spectre of international military involvement, Syria – and the region – face further conflagration, leading to increased civilian suffering.
Protection of human rights and respect for international humanitarian law are closely interlinked with the UN Charter, particularly with action by the Security Council. To help ensure compliance, the Security Council must be engaged as a forum to leverage the parties to the conflict in Syria as well as influential states on the issue of the protection of civilians.
There is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations, leading to a political settlement. To elect military action in Syria will not only intensify the suffering inside the country but will also serve to keep such a settlement beyond our collective reach.
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