News / Middle East

    Rights Group Says Syrian Attacks Violate International Law

    A Syrian Air force fighter-bomber strikes the town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish frontier November 13, 2013.
    A Syrian Air force fighter-bomber strikes the town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish frontier November 13, 2013.
    The Syrian Air Force is carrying out air strikes on its own cities and towns that violate international humanitarian law or amount to war crimes, according to a leading human rights organization.

    The organization Human Rights Watch, said its conclusion is based on about 60 Syrian Air Force attacks inside the country that were either too indiscriminate, killing or endangering nearby civilians, or were deliberately targeted at non-combatants.

    In a 75-page report, “Death from the Skies: Deliberate and Indiscriminate Air Strikes on Civilians,” Human Rights Watch said it documented the bombing raids in rebel-controlled areas in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Idlib, and Latakia. The report, issued today (April 10), was based on visits to bombing sites and field investigations, including more than a hundred interviews. Researchers also examined video footage of the air raids. (Listen to our interview with HRW's Nadim Houri using the audio player at the end of this post.)

    The limited number of raids investigated by rights group led to the deaths of at least 152 civilians, it said. Overall, more than 4,000 civilians may have been killed in air raids since last summer, according to the Syrian Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian monitoring group working in coordination with a network of Syrian opposition activists.

    The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 overall have been killed in Syria since the civil war began just over two years ago.  More than a million are estimated to have been left homeless.
     
    Deliberate attacks on bakeries and hospitals
     
    Human Rights Watch said the air strikes it studied are carried out by warplanes and helicopters and include deliberate attacks on bakeries and hospitals. It said that in some cases the Syrian aircraft dropped cluster and incendiary bombs, which was described as a method of “systematic and widespread attacks against the civilian population.”

    In March, VOA found some evidence that cluster bombs, which break open in the air and spread so-called bomblets, may have been used in an attack on the town of Azaz near the border with the Turkey. Cluster munitions have been banned by most nations because of their indiscriminate nature, although the U.S. military has claimed in the past that cluster munitions can often result in less collateral damage than a larger bomb or artillery shell.
     
    A Syrian man cries outside the Dar El Shifa hospital in Aleppo, Syria after his daughter was injured during a Syrian Air Force strike over a school where hundreds of refugees had taken shelter Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.A Syrian man cries outside the Dar El Shifa hospital in Aleppo, Syria after his daughter was injured during a Syrian Air Force strike over a school where hundreds of refugees had taken shelter Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.
    x
    A Syrian man cries outside the Dar El Shifa hospital in Aleppo, Syria after his daughter was injured during a Syrian Air Force strike over a school where hundreds of refugees had taken shelter Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.
    A Syrian man cries outside the Dar El Shifa hospital in Aleppo, Syria after his daughter was injured during a Syrian Air Force strike over a school where hundreds of refugees had taken shelter Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.
    “In village after village, we found a civilian population terrified by their country’s own air force,” said Ole Solvang, an emergencies researcher with Human Rights Watch who interviewed many of the victims and witnesses. “These illegal air strikes killed and injured many civilians and sowed a path of destruction, fear, and displacement.”

    Between July and December, Human Rights Watch report documented 119 incidents of the Syrian armed forces dropping cluster munitions in populated areas in the governorates of Aleppo, Idlib, Deir al-Zor, Homs, Latakia and Damascus.

    Four bakeries were among the targets of the 59 air strikes in the report.  Civilians were often queuing in breadlines at the time of the attacks.

    The raids also included repeated attacks on two hospitals. In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, warplanes attacked the clearly marked Dar al-Shifa hospital, forcing the clinic to cease functioning.

    In the town of Salma in the governorate of Latakia, high-flying helicopters dropped improvised bombs near a makeshift hospital, eventually destroying it on October 5, 2012, Human Rights Watch said.
     
    Rebels escape many air strikes
     
    The rights group report noted that the air strikes it documented led to no casualties among rebel fighters, as far as its researchers could establish.

    Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain after an air strike November 13, 2012.Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain after an air strike November 13, 2012.
    x
    Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain after an air strike November 13, 2012.
    Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain after an air strike November 13, 2012.
    In 41 of the attacks documented in the report, Human Rights Watch identified possible military targets, such as rebel bases or checkpoints within 50 to 400 meters of the strike. But it said that international law experts conclude that an attacking party is not relieved from a legal obligation to take into account risk to civilians.

    In al-Bab, a town northeast of Aleppo, the Syrian Air Force launched several sorties near a rebel base on September 3, 2012, but the base was never hit - a house was, killing four members of the Said family.

    On November 7, a Syrian air force warplane dropped two bombs on the town of Akhtarin in northern Aleppo governorate, destroying three houses and killing seven, including five children. In this case there was a possible military target, a building 50 meters away used by opposition fighters, the Human Rights Watch report said.

    “It was tragic. The buildings had turned into a heap of rubble,” said a neighbor quoted in the report. “We started pulling people out using just our hands and shovels. A cupboard and a wall had fallen on the children. They were still alive when we found them, but they died before we could take them to their uncle’s house.”

    Human Rights Watch has issued several hard-hitting reports on the Syrian civil war and not all of its criticism has focused on the government. Last autumn, the group criticized the rebel Free Syrian Army for failing to take “all feasible measures to avoid deploying forces and structures such as headquarters in or near densely populated areas.”
     
    The latest report concludes by saying that, “The information we have gathered should also assist those seeking to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice,” a possible invitation for the United Nations or the International Criminal Court to consider war crimes charges against senior members of the regime of President al-Assad.

    VOA's Susan Yackee speaks to Human Rights Watch's Nadim Houri about the group's latest findings in Syria:

    You May Like

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Stuart Deakin from: Glasgow
    April 11, 2013 2:51 PM
    This is purely propaganda; the human rights breaches are coming from the Salafist terrorist groups inside Syria that our Governments are supporting. Syria was the only country on Earth where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in harmony. Unfortunately due to terrorist entity which is the US administration and its allies were Syria has been thrown into the Abyss purely as a stepping stone for isolating and invading Iran and placing pressure on Russia and China. This is an economic game, this is a geo-political game, nothing more, nothing less.

    by: Gen. Vladimir Azkayev from: Russia
    April 11, 2013 2:50 PM
    Dr. Hans, i always enjoy reading your reports, which are always accurate and extremely penetrating. I have few questions:
    1. why the UK and France did not share their intelligence with the EU INTCEN?
    2. we are seeing "new" weapons in the hands of Syrian "Rebels" who pays for their transport and distribution? Saudi Arabia? UK? France?
    3. we have been witnessing significant Turkish disciplinary deterioration on the Turkish-Syrian border - including systematic sexual abuse by Turkish soldiers raping Syrian refugees... why was it not addressed in the EU INTCEN?
    4. yes, we all admire Israeli intelligence, but why Russian intelligence is so unreliable?
    5. what is the motivation behind British agitation to remove Assad by force?

    by: Cian
    April 11, 2013 2:32 PM
    An US Human Rights organization is complaining about another country? Shuuureeely shooome mishtaake?

    by: Dr. Hans F. from: Gernamy
    April 11, 2013 12:15 PM
    in the latest conference of European Intelligence Agencies a consensus emerged as the point to keep in mind: very close alliance on the issue of Syrian intervention between Russia and Germany (Dr. Subramanian I respect your opinion and largely agree with your assessment that this is historically not the best thing for the world). However, the Americans have completely abandoned their leadership position, leaving Putin to dominate the agenda...

    Almost all of our "Actionable" intelligence come from reputable Israeli sources, and some from less reliable Russian sources.
    German Intelligence is confined to interrogations of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Germany with even less reliability. The British continue to agitate for the removal of Assad by force, the American representatives are silent and the Israelis fill the pressure most acutely but they are bound by American decisions. Contrary to reports in the media - no action concerning arming the "Rebel" was undertaken. next week, we are scheduled to consider the regional impact on Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, all of whom are beginning to show signs of acute instability.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.