The most dangerous place in the world to be a reporter
Journalists reporting on human rights abuses in Syria are being deliberately targeted by both sides in the conflict. As our latest report documents, at least 36 journalists have been killed and dozens more attacked or detained since the uprising began in 2011, with both professional and 'citizen' journalists facing reprisals for carrying out their work.
According to the UN, at least 70,000 people have died since pro-reform protestors took to the streets of Syria in February 2011. Many were shot by security forces while participating in peaceful protests or attending the funerals of others killed. This number continues to rise.
Thousands of Syrians have been detained or arrested by the country's authorities, many held incommunicado at unknown locations where torture and other ill-treatment are rife. There are allegations of extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances.Members of the security forces have also been killed, some by defecting members of the army who have taken up arms against the government. These and other human rights violations are being committed with absolute impunity.
- Read about Syria in our 2011 Annual Report
- Other countries demanding change in the Middle East and North Africa
Two years on, the war crimes continue
Stop the bloodshed - protect civilians now
Human rights abuses by both opposition and government forces in Syria are spiralling. According to the UN, at least 70,000 people have died since pro-reform protestors took to the streets of Syria in February 2011.
This endlessly rising death toll serves as a constant reminder that what started as a peaceful cry for freedom has descended into an internal armed conflict - with devastating consequences. This simply cannot be allowed to carry on. Help ensure 2013 is not another year of bloodshed, by calling on both opposition and government forces to prioritise the protection of civilians.
Our research on-the-ground
- Deliberate killings of civilians, and those believed to support the opposition - in the most part by Syria's armed forces. Read more
- Brutal use of force against protestors in Aleppo where children were killed and bystanders shot dead as government backed militias fired indiscriminately into the crowds. Read more
- Children killed or maimed and families torn apart as civilians bear the brunt of indiscriminate air attacks in both Aleppo and the Idlib and North Hama regions. Read more
- Villages abandoned as people flee to live in caves or attempt to cross the border to Turkey. Read more
Opposition abuse dents hope for human rights revolution
The appearance of footage allegedly showing members of armed opposition groups executing 14 men from a pro-government clan offers a powerful reminder of the need for both sides of the conflict in Syria to respect International Humanitarian Law.
Although the vast majority of crimes in this armed conflict continue to be perpetrated by government forces and pro-government militias, members of armed opposition groups have been responsible for summary executions of captives and other unlawful killings. They have abducted civilians, tortured people and used children in the hostilities.
Many of these actions constitute war crimes and the armed opposition do not get a free pass because their opponent is terrorising, punishing and humiliating civilians across Syria. There can be no excuses. If this is to be a true human rights revolution, the opposition must start by committing to those rights and abiding by international law.
- Annual report 2013: Failure to address conflict situations creating a global underclass of refugees 23 May 2013
Reporting from the front line Researcher Donatella Rovera provides a first hand update on the situation in the country on her return from the country in May.
Syrians share their experiences
As the brutal crackdown continues in Syria, few lives in the country remain unaffected by the violence. Since the conflict began we've collected testimonies from a number of men and women who tell of the horror they have faced, and the upheaval caused by the government's attempts to silence those calling for human rights in the country.
- One family's escape from Syria After the Syrian army launched a security operation against the village of Tasil many were forced to flee. A family told us of their escape to Jordan. Read their story
- Student tells of torture A 25-year-old university student tells us about the beatings and torture he and other detainees suffered while being held in a sports stadium. Read his story (pdf)
- Former soldier speaks out A 21-year-old former soldier, now seeking refuge in Lebanon, describes the moment he chose to leave the army and join the protestors. Read his story
Kamal al-Labwani, a medical doctor, who was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in May 2007, has now been released. His family are extremely happy and have thanked everyone who campaigned for his rights. Read more
Under the state of emergency that had been in place since 1963 only the ruling Ba'ath party was allowed to rule Syria. Security forces enjoy sweeping powers of arrest, and government critics are routinely sentenced to lengthy prison terms following grossly unfair trials.
In this climate, a series of small peaceful gatherings, organised mainly on Facebook and Twitter, were held from 2 February 2011. The protests were forcibly dispersed and demonstrators arrested.
On 18 March the protests began to spread after the authorities used excessive force to suppress a demonstration calling for the release of children detained for writing 'the people want the downfall of the regime' on a wall as graffiti. Within a week, security forces had killed at least 55 protesters in the city.
The international response has been slow and inadequate. In October Russia and China blocked what was already a seriously watered-down resolution at the UN Security Council. South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon abstained.
In November 2011, the League of Arab States announced a deal with the Syrian authorities to end the violence. But the Syrian government failed to implement its commitments and the League suspended their membership, announcing economic sanctions on the country.
In December the first formal mission of observers was allowed in to Syria since the crackdown began. Representative of the Arab League entered the country on 26 December, tasked with monitoring Syria's implementation of the peace plan. Despite their presence in the country, human rights abuses reportedly continued.
In February 2012, China and Russia vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution expressing 'grave concern' at the situation in Syria and calling for all violence to cease. Russia also continues to supply arms to the Syrian authorities, which may be used to commit crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations. They must suspend arms transfers to Syria immediately and use their influence to urge the Syrian government to:
- Immediately end excessive use of force against residential areas and allow peaceful dissent
- Immediately give humanitarian agencies and human rights organisations full and unhindered access.
- Brutal assault on Homs must end Statement - February 2012
- Arab League should clarify situation in Syria Statement - January 2012
- No more impunity for crimes against humanity in Syria Submission to the UN Human Rights Council December 2011
- Russia and China block UN Security Council Resolution Statement - October 2011
Despite the Syrian government's acceptance on 27 March 2012 of the six-point plan by Kofi Annan (Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League on Syria), we have continued to receive reports of arrests and continuing detention of individuals in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance.
On 14 April the UN Security Council voted in a resolution endorsing the six-point plan and approving the immediate deployment of 30 unarmed observers to Syria. There are now 300 military observers, 297 on the ground plus 71 international civilian staff and 14 local civilian staff, known as UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). Despite this, the killing continues with the number of dead growing daily.
We are concerned that this mission is lacking a clear mandate to monitor and investigate human rights abuses, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. We are calling on the UN Security Council to create an adequately resourced and strong human rights component of the Supervision Mission with the mandate the monitor, investigate and publicly report on all human rights aspects and their implications for the 'six point plan'.
The Syrian government has shown it cannot be trusted to respect its commitments so a credible, vigorous monitoring operation will be essential if all parties are to be kept to their obligations.
The opposition inside the country now includes armed groups, most loosely organised under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Along with a growing number of soldiers who have defected from Syria's armed forces, the FSA has taken up arms against government forces.
As confrontations between government forces and armed opposition groups have increased, the frequency and brutality of government reprisals against towns and villages supportive of the opposition has escalated.
While the overwhelming majority of alleged human rights violations have been committed by Syria's state security forces, there have been some reports of abuses committed by members of armed opposition groups, including kidnappings and killings of people apparently because they or their relatives were outspoken in supporting the government. Members of armed gangs known as 'shabiha' - believed to operate on behalf, or with the acquiescence, of state forces - have also allegedly been targeted.
We are investigating these reports which, if true, are deeply disturbing. We condemn, without reservation, serious abuses by armed groups, including attacks that target civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, torture and other ill-treatment.
The crimes committed in Syria by government forces amount to crimes against humanity as they appear to be part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population. As the brutal crackdown of protestors continues we are calling on the United Nations Security Council to:
- Refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes under international law, including reported crimes against humanity
- Impose immediately a complete arms embargo on Syria, preventing the transfer of all weapons, munitions and military, security and policing equipment, training and personnel
- Implement an asset freeze against President Bashar al-Assad and others who may be involved in ordering or perpetrating crimes under international law.
We are calling on the Syrian authorities to:
- Immediately rein in the security forces
- End the arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention of those who peacefully express their opposition to the government by exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly
- End the systematic use of torture and other ill-treatment
- End unlawful killings of peaceful demonstrators and others
- Cease all other human rights violations.
- Deadly reprisals: Deliberate killings and other abuses by Syria's armed forces 14 June 2012
- 'I wanted to die': Syria's torture survivors speak out 14 March 2012
- Year of Rebellion: State of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa 9 January 2011
- Health crisis: Syrian government targets the wounded and health workers 24 October 2011
- Deadly detention: Deaths in custody amid popular protest in Syria 30 August 2011
- Crackdown in Syria: Terror in Tell Kalakh 6 July 2011
- Investigation urged into Syrian mass grave reports 17 May 2011