Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

A 'comprehensive strategy' on ISIS in Syria - some points for the UK

Kristyan Benedict - on Twitter as @KreaseChan

Civilians in Syria are being subjected to appalling human rights violations committed by the Syrian government and many armed opposition groups. These violations amount to war crimes and in the case of those committed by the Syrian government, are so systematic and widespread that they constitute crimes against humanity.

Amnesty International generally neither condemns nor condones the resort to the use of force in international relations, nor does it make any comments or pass judgment on the arguments justifying the use of force. In the context of the armed conflict in Syria, Amnesty International has not called for armed intervention but continues to push for the international community to undertake a range of measures to protect civilians and prevent further crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity, being committed.

It is critical that all parties involved in the conflict respect fully international humanitarian law (the laws of war) and applicable human rights law. Amnesty International calls on all parties to comply with international humanitarian law, particularly in relation to the protection of civilian lives. In particular, all parties must:

· Refrain from targeting civilians or civilian objects

· Refrain from carrying out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks

· Refrain from using weapons which are inherently indiscriminate or otherwise prohibited under international humanitarian law, including cluster munitions

· Take all necessary precautions in attacks to spare civilians, including by issuing warnings to civilians wherever feasible, and paying particular heed to the fact that detainees are being held in military bases and facilities

· Take precautions to protect civilians under their control against the effect of attacks, including avoiding, to the extent feasible, locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas, and removing, where feasible, civilians from the vicinity of military objectives

· Refrain from using civilians to render military objectives immune from attack (that is, as human shields).

Key objectives/recommendations to the UK government

Amnesty International has reported on grave human rights abuses committed by Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, though the Syrian government is responsible for far more civilian deaths. To be effective any strategy to respond to Islamic State must take place within the context of a comprehensive strategy to deter and prevent further human rights violations and abuses across Syria.

At the UN Security Council

Amnesty International has called for the UN Security Council to ensure that obstacles to the implementation of the provisions of Resolutions 2139, 2165 and 2191 (that relate to respecting human rights and international humanitarian law) are addressed. When the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2139 it committed to “take further steps” if the provisions of the resolution was violated. Given that they continue to be violated flagrantly by all parties, the UK should push and encourage other states to push for the following additional measures to be taken:

· Insisting that the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry be given access to Syria to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all parties to the conflict and access all persons deprived of their liberty;

· Supporting the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks;

· Passing a follow up-resolution, introduced by France, that calls on the Syrian government to end the use of barrel bombs on civilian areas;

· Imposing targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for ordering or committing serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses;

· Imposing a comprehensive arms embargo on the Syrian government given the irrefutable evidence that it has used arms to commit systematic and widespread crimes under international humanitarian law (thereby complementing the arms embargos already imposed on the armed group calling itself Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front under Resolution 2170);

· Referring the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

· It should also support and encourage other states to support the renewal of Resolution 2165.

In political negotiations

The UK should use its influence in the political negotiations taking place to end the conflict in Syria to ensure the inclusion of human rights-related benchmarks, such as:

· Access for the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry to Syria;

· Access for international detention monitors to prisons and detention centres;

· The release by all parties to the conflict of peaceful activists detained solely for exercising their human rights;

· The release of information on the fate and whereabouts of individuals subjected to enforced disappearances by Syrian government forces or to abduction by non-state armed groups;

· An end to the use of imprecise explosive weapons in populated areas.

Through pressure on allies

The UK should use its influence on allies such as the Autonomous Administration in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria and the Syrian National Coalition to ensure that they:

· Do not misuse the provision of assistance to commit violations of international humanitarian law. The UK should implement a robust oversight mechanism before transferring any weapons, ammunition and related equipment to the region, including strict requirements for marking, stockpile security, and registration of users.

· Comply with the provisions of Resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191 which are related to ensuring respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. In particular, this includes the release of all individuals held solely on account of their political opinion, religion, or ethnicity or the peaceful exercise of their human rights and ending the use of imprecise explosive weapons in civilian areas.

Press for universal jurisdiction

The ongoing failure and inaction of the UN Security Council to mandate the International Criminal Court to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria has protected perpetrators from accountability. The

UK should therefore work with partners to accept a shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law committed in Syria, in particular by seeking to exercise universal jurisdiction to bring suspected perpetrators to justice before national courts.


Ensure there are no arms transfers to any non-state armed group in Syria where there is a substantial risk of the group committing serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

If the UK does consider supplying arms to non-state armed groups in Syria, first carry out a rigorous human rights risk assessment and establish a robust monitoring process which would enable all arms transfer proposals to be carefully considered before any approval is granted and for any such transfers to be rapidly halted if arms are used (or diverted) to commit human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law.

Addressing the plight of refugees

There continues to be an urgent need for the international community to respond effectively to the plight of Syrian refugees. Whereas the UK’s status as the second largest donor supporting displaced Syrians in the region is welcome, the UK needs to do more with its partners and allies to ensure countries hosting refugees treat them with the respect and dignity to which they are entitled. This must include bringing pressure to bear on, for example, Turkey and Lebanon to permit refugees to register, permit their access to housing, employment and other basic needs, and cease unlawful pushbacks and returns to Syria.

However doing so also requires greater responsibility sharing with these countries and other partners – particularly in Europe – which cannot be achieved if Syrian refugees who are arriving or have arrived in Europe face pushbacks or return to the region, or countries like the UK refuse to receive a fair share of these arrivals.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
View latest posts