Military intervention in Syria: The human rights perspective
As America, the UK, France and Turkey debate whether or not to take military action in Syria, many of you have asked us to say if we are for or against it. You have demanded we take a stand.
But the fact is that as an organisation, we neither condemn nor condone such armed international intervention. And -disappointed though some of you may be by this - we don’t take a stand on the moral basis for such an action.
We do not get involved in geopolitical posturing. What we do is focus on protecting civilian lives.
And we remind those entering into conflict that they are subject to the laws of war - we work to ensure that all parties respect international humanitarian law and human rights. In fact, we have a lot to say about that
Our research into alleged chemical weapon attacks
After years of inaction on Syria, the international community’s interest has been spiked by reports and horrific pictures suggesting chemical weapons attacks in the Eastern Ghouta and Mo’damiya areas of Syria.
Shocked by the footage coming out of the country, we have been investigating these alleged attacks.
We have been speaking to survivors of the attack believed to have taken place in the Eastern Ghouta region – just to the east of Damascus. We have spoken to the doctors who examined those killed, and who treated those affected by the contamination. We have shared our findings with specialists in chemical agents.
These experts told us that the symptoms exhibited by those affected are consistent with exposure to organophosphurous nerve agents. These agents lead to reduced muscle activity. They mean that lungs don’t get enough oxygen, creating respiratory problems that sometime result in death.
The reduced muscle activity caused by exposure to these nerve agents also lead to involuntary muscle movements, including twitching and convulsions and constricted pupils. All of these are symptoms exhibited by people in the town of Zamalka and Ain Tarma in Eastern Ghouda in the hours following the alleged attack.
Until the UN investigators come back with their findings, we can’t be 100% certain. But based on our research, we think that it is highly likely chemical agents have contaminated several neighbourhoods in these towns. These experts must be given free access to affected locations and provided with all of the information they need to make their conclusions.
The UN inspectors
With something this serious, we need to ensure that the UN weapons inspectors can carry out their work unhindered. The international community has to step up and demand that both the Syrian government and opposition forces allow full access to any area the mission wants to visit.
If they do conclude that chemical weapons attacks have happened, the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria must be given access so that they can assess who is responsible for these attacks. Until then, we will not know.
But this commission has been denied access to the country since it was first set up in August 2011. The UN Security Council (its five permanent members being China, France, Russia, the UK and US) needs to insist this denial ends – it must demand that the government and opposition forces provide full access and cooperation. All other governments should use any influence they have to support this demand.
If chemical weapons have been used, then the perpetrators have committed a war crime. But it is by no means the first or only war crime to be committed in this bloody conflict.
The international community has done far too little to address and prevent these crimes. The UN Security Council has failed to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. It has failed Syrian civilians.
Imminent military attacks?
A year ago, President Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a ‘red line’. If crossed, he said that it would prompt the US to take action. Now, as the UN weapons inspectors continue their task of assessing whether not such an attack has indeed taken place, the US government has said its forces are ready to strike on the country if Obama orders such an attack.
Despite Ban Ki Moon’s pleas, it is looking increasingly unlikely that they will wait for UN confirmation that chemical weapons attacks have taken place.
The UK government, meanwhile, put a suggested resolution to the UN Security Council calling for military action against the ‘unacceptable’ use of chemical weapons. But given the on-going inability for the Security Council to agree anything on Syria, and Russia’s opposition to any outside intervention in the country, we think it’s likely that any armed intervention is going to happen without its authorisation.
Whatever happens, we are calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and abide by the laws of war. Anything else will just make a terrible situation worse.
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.