The situation in Syria - some clarifications.
In a week that marked a year of protests in Syria we issued a report highlighting the use of torture in detention in the country. We also continue to call on the Russian authorities to help stop the bloodshed.
In posting both on Facebook we have received quite a few comments concerned about our targeting of the Russian Federation and the focus on the Syrian authorities, rather than the armed opposition groups that have formed in recent months. In order to respond to these comments at some length, we thought it worth posting our reply here.
There have been two main strands of comment, we have used one of each 'type' here to represent the general gist but please do go to our Facebook page if you would like to read more as they of course do all raise different nuances.
What about the armed opposition?
There have been questions about our concern with the violence of the Syrian authorities and a perceived lack of concern with the violence of armed opposition groups. These questions can be summed up by this recent post:
"So, if Alaskans mounted an armed violent insurrection, would the US gov come down hard? Syrian response is ruthless as would be US. Perhaps we should target both sides of this, those arming and fomenting war rather than supporting propganda against just Syria."
We have written to the Syrian government several times to request their assistance in obtaining information on people killed since the unrest began. We asked for information on numbers killed from within the security forces; armed individuals or groups; and civilians. We have not received any response to date.
To assess the credibility of these reports Amnesty International is again asking the Syrian government to allow it - and other international human rights monitors - access to the country to investigate human rights violations taking place.
The Syrian government should ensure that their law enforcement officials use force only when strictly necessary and only to the minimum extent required under the circumstances. These standards do not mean that soldiers and police cannot defend themselves if they come under fire. The bottom line is that the Syrian government have an obligation to observe international human rights standards on law enforcement and policing. They are failing in that responsibility.
It should be noted though that the vast majority of the thousands of people killed have been unarmed demonstrators and bystanders who posed no threat to security forces or others.
It should also be noted that the Syrian authorities have a long record of torturing and killing civilians with impunity. When the uprising began in Syria on March 15 2011 the Syrian authorities immediately cracked down heavily and killed peaceful protesters in the subsequent days.
The militarisation in some parts of Syria has occurred over recent months but even in these situations, the Syrian authorities are responding disproportionately and indiscriminately and the torture and killing of unarmed protesters continues. The Syrian authority’s actions amount to crimes against humanity and it is absolutely right that we call for the situation to be referred to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
There has also been concern raised over our targeting of the Russian authorities, calling on them to use their influence - as the key arms supplier to the Syrian authorities - to help stop the bloodshed. The comments on this issue are summarised by this post:
"What about the admitted torture, with the aid of Europe. Massive civilian deaths committed by the US and allies. whilst hippocrits rule it is hard to make a just argument. The US and France are the key supplier of arms to the opposition. So the point about Russia ?"
The Russian Federation are the key international government with the most influence over the Syrian authorities. We are calling on them to use their significant influence to call on the Syrian authorities to stop the killing, rein in their security and armed forces, let in international humanitarian and human rights organisations and give them unhindered movement.
On the surface, the Russian authorities are developing their positions all the time – they are publicly condemning the violence and have said the actions by the Syrian Government are totally unacceptable. Amnesty would like to see them go further and if they are genuinely concerned about the violence then they should stop exacerbating the violence by sending arms. This is why we are calling on Russia so vigorously to stop the flow of weapons to the Syrian authorities.
But let’s be clear – we are calling for an international and comprehensive arms embargo on Syria – that means arms from any source anywhere.
We criticise all countries that supply arms in any context where there is a risk that they will used to commit human rights violations. That is why we are calling for a robust arms trade treaty that would ensure no country - not Russia, not the UK, not France and not the USA - could transfer arms where there is that risk.
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.