In June 2017 a US-led coalition launched a mission to push the ‘Islamic State’ out of Raqqa, Syria. Instead of targeting ‘Islamic State’ fighters they killed hundreds of civilians, and injured thousands more.

Amnesty International is committed to protecting the rights of Syrians, whether they remain in Syria or have sought refuge in other countries. As the armed conflict in Syria entered its seventh year, we continue to monitor and hold those accountable for war crimes and human rights abuses. By the end of the year, the conflict had caused the deaths of more than 400,000 people and displaced more than 11 million people within and outside Syria. Amnesty International also works to ensure refugee rights by hosting governments, especially here in Canada. 


A humanitarian and human rights crisis

What started as peaceful reform demonstrations in Syria escalated into a prolonged and brutal internal conflict, leaving some 100,000 dead, hundreds of thousands injured, and over 9 million in need of humanitarian assistance. The international community repeatedly struggled to find a way to effectively address the crisis.  In 2014, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling on all parties to the conflict in Syria to put an end to all forms of violence and to stop human rights violations. It also calls on them to lift sieges of populated areas and to allow unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders. 

Cities under Siege

Around 250.000 civilians are living under siege across the country. Most live in areas besieged by Syrian government forces and have been effectively confined for a year or more in areas being bombed and shelled on a regular basis. In other areas, civilians have come under siege from armed opposition forces who have blocked the delivery of much-needed supplies.

Syrian government forces have used cluster munitions against civilian residential areas in towns and villages, contributing to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

In mid-September 2013, the UN Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic confirmed that it had found convincing evidence that chemical weapons were used on a large scale during an attack on August 21, 2013 on the outskirts of Damascus.  Thousands were affected by the attack, and while the death toll remains unconfirmed it is believed that at least hundreds died as a direct result of the attack. Use of banned weapons is a war crime.

Chemical Attacks and Bombings in SyriaGovernment forces and armed groups are committing horrific war crimes — speak up to protect civilians.TAKE ACTION

LATEST BLOG:Syria chemical attack – when will the suffering end? (APRIL 10, 2018)

READ AMNESTY’S REPORT Squeezing the life out of Yarmouk: War crimes against besieged civilians

The Refugee Crisis

The scale of the crisis is staggering: almost a third of Syria’s total population have fled their homes and communities in hopes of escaping the fighting. At least 4.25 million people are displaced internally within Syria, while more than 2.3 million people have fled the country (half of them children). The flow of refugees into neighbouring countries has put an immense strain on the limited resources available, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon, where many refugees are living in precarious conditions in overcrowded refugee camps or in host communities, including in informal settlements. Very few refugees – a mere 3% – have settled outside the region.

TAKE ACTION Syria/Jordan: ensure safety for refugee women and girls

READ AMNESTY’S BRIEFING An International Failure: The Syrian Refugee Crisis


Enforced Disappearances

Since protests broke out in Syria in February 2011, thousands of suspected opponents of the government have been arbitrarily arrested and detained; many appear to have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Some remain missing – their fate or whereabouts unknown to their families, who are often left in anguish and despair. Others who were subjected to enforced disappearance but eventually released after languishing for months in secret detention have told Amnesty International about the torture and other ill-treatment they endured.

Enforced disappearances have been a major human rights concern through the decades of the al-Assad family’s rule. Amnesty International has been documenting cases of enforced disappearance in Syria since the late 1970s.READSyria: Tens of thousands of disappeared must not be forgotten (AUGUST 29, 2017)

From peaceful protest to armed conflict

In early February 2011, the “Arab Spring” rebellion rocking the Middle East and North Africa spread to Syria. Small pro-reform demonstrations quickly swelled into mass protests in mid-March after a violent crackdown on the city of Dera’a where protesters were calling for the release of detained children. As protests spread to other cities, government forces responded with brute force, deploying tanks in residential neighbourhoods and using snipers to shoot at peaceful crowds. Thousands were arrested, hundreds disappeared, and many tortured – some to death. While a few detainees were released, others now face long sentences after grossly unfair trials. Still others continue to be held without charge. By the end of the year an armed resistance had formed. As fighting spread and intensified, tens of thousands began to flee their homes and communities in search of safety, either to other parts of Syria or over the borders into neighbouring countries.

Throughout the conflict, serious abuses, some amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, have been committed by all parties to the conflict. In addition to arbitrary detention, torture, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances, and unfair trials, government forces regularly engaged in indiscriminate attacks including aerial bombardment.  During revenge attacks on neighbourhoods believed to be sympathetic to rebel fighters, thousands were unlawfully killed and homes systematically burned and looted to further terrorize the civilian population.  Opposition forces – made up of a burgeoning number of rebel groups – have also unlawfully killed civilians through indiscriminate attacks and reckless use of weapons in residential neighbourhoods. Some groups have tortured and killed captured members of the army and security forces, including perceived supporters of the government and suspected informers.  Others have taken civilian hostages. The use of child soldiers, often in support roles, has also been reported.

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