Two years of tragedy - help us build hope for Syria
‘I heard my daughter Amani call her little brother and then I don’t remember anything. I don’t know how long I lay under the rubble before I was pulled out….The bodies of my wife and my daughter Amani were not found until six days later’ – Hammoudeh al-Hussein, a 40-year-old victim of a government airstrike in Aleppo.
‘Someone called me and told me [armed opposition fighters] had killed Ali-al Zamel… so we went to the hole. I saw his body, it had a firearm wound to the chest and another to his neck’ – a local describes finding a body in the ‘hole of death’ in Damascus, where armed opposition groups were dumping the bodies of those they had killed.
Two years on from the start of the violence in Syria and we are finding evidence of increasingly vile and bloody war crimes committed by both armed opposition groups and government forces. Civilians are being brutalised. Children are growing up in the shadow of death. Violence is an everyday reality.
Government forces are filling the sky with terror
On 20 February 16-year-old Mousa Ramadan Hassoun was grazing sheep on a hill with two of his cousins when they stumbled across some cylinder-shaped objects, each with a little white ribbon tied around its neck. Intrigued, the boys picked them up, Mousa’s two cousins quickly set the strange objects back down on the ground but Mousa put his in his pocket. Seconds later he was dead. He had picked up a cluster bomblet, left scattered across his neighbourhood after government forces dropped a cluster bomb – an internationally banned weapon. It had torn open his abdomen and cut off his right arm.
Mousa’s is one of many tragic and needless deaths documented by our researcher Donatella during a two-week investigation in northern Syria. Putting her own life at risk, she travelled to 17 towns in the region, including Aleppo city. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied that its forces carry out indiscriminate attacks or deliberately target civilian residential areas. But Donatella’s report documents horrific injuries and violence caused by the government’s increased air raids of civilian areas that flatly contradict their claims.
These raids are so indiscriminate in their nature that Donatella has said they amount to targeting civilians: ‘government forces know perfectly well that nine out of ten times those who are hit are civilians, and that means the biggest killer of children’.
Violence is everywhere - abuses by the armed opposition are escalating
Towards the end of last year Colonel Helal Eid, an army officer specialising in physical education, was at home with his wife and children when 15 armed men arrived at his front door. He refused to let them in, even when they threw a sound bomb and started firing bullets at his home. When one of the bullets hit him in the shoulder, he finally relented. As the men led him away, neighbours intervened but their cries were ignored. The next time they saw him, he was dead. The fighters had left him on a heap of waste with a bullet hole in his forehead and a piece of brown card on him reading ‘the collaborator Colonel Helal Eid’.
Colonel Helal Eid’s murder is one of many summary killings carried out by members of the armed opposition in Syria. While still not on the scale of government attacks, over the last year Donatella and her colleague Cilina have documented increasingly violent and brutal abuses committed by members of the opposition (PDF)
Cilina recently travelled to Lebanon where she met many families dealing with the deaths of their loved ones. The overriding and repeated call was for justice. Syrians want those responsible to be held to account for their crimes. And our research will prove vital to this process.
But it isn’t just our research that will play an important role in improving the lives of civilians in Syria. We are also continuing to lobby governments behind the scenes, lobbying that helped bring the UK on board to a call for the situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court. We’re also lobbying members of the opposition and working with Syrian activists based in the UK, providing capacity-building based on our expertise in crisis and transition contexts with a key focus on understanding and respecting human rights.
Progress might be slow, but we can’t give up on the people of Syria. Donate today and help bring renewed hope for a future in which human rights are protected
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.