Arms to Syria debate: strong warning issued over risk of 'fuelling' human rights abuse

‘In the future … civilians in Syria may come to curse the ready availability of UK-supplied arms in their country’ - Kristyan Benedict

Amnesty International has issued a strong warning about the dangers of arming opposition groups in Syria ahead of a debate in parliament on the issue tomorrow.

The MPs’ debate comes after weeks of speculation that the UK is preparing to send weapons to Syria following the EU’s decision in May to lift an embargo on arms being supplied to Syria’s opposition forces. That decision came after sustained political lobbying from the UK. In recent weeks the Foreign Secretary William Hague has talked of the “carefully controlled circumstances” under which the UK might send weapons to opposition forces in Syria.

Amnesty has sent a briefing document on its concerns to all MPs ahead of Thursday’s debate.

Amnesty International UK Syria Campaign manager Kristyan Benedict said:

“MPs need to understand that any arms shipments to opposition forces in Syria would come with absolutely enormous risks.

“President Assad’s forces have certainly carried out the bulk of the human rights violations in this conflict, but there’s a mounting catalogue of suspected war crimes that can be laid at the feet of numerous opposition groups.

“There should be no question of the UK sending weapons to Syria until it can be ascertained that there is no substantial risk of them being used to commit human rights violations.

“If the UK government can’t credibly ensure that weapons it intends to supply will not be used to carry out abuses, then they should absolutely not supply them to opposition groups in Syria.

“The onus is very much on the government to show how it can provide safeguards against misuse of weapons. At the moment this looks like a very tall order.

“If gung-ho decisions are made, in the future, far from thanking countries like Britain for their intervention, civilians in Syria may come to curse the ready availability of UK-supplied arms in their country.

“Do MPs want to see a situation where UK weaponry is fuelling human rights abuse in a disintegrating Syria?”

Amnesty believes the key questions MPs should press the government over are these:

*What exactly are the credible safeguards and mechanisms which will ensure any UK-supplied weaponry won’t be used to commit human rights abuses by groups that already have a record of committing abuse?

*From a distance of several thousand miles, in what way is the UK able to monitor the use of its military equipment? And how will this be managed over time - in for example six months or a year?

*How will the UK ensure that its weapons won’t be transferred from one opposition group to another? Or that they won’t be forcibly seized by unintended recipient groups, including by fighters linked to al-Qa’ida?

Among the mounting reports of human right abuses carried out by a variety of Syrian opposition forces - many apparently not under the control of the Free Syrian Army - Amnesty has recently highlighted a series of incidents where journalists and media workers have been targeted by opposition forces - including with deliberate attacks on buildings where they work - because of their perceived alliance to the Syrian authorities.
 

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