Naomi McAuliffe is Amnesty International Scotland's Programme Director
As war crimes go unpunished in Syria, an Amnesty International campaign marking the sixth anniversary of the crisis calls on world leaders to deliver justice to the millions of victims of the conflict
Syrians have been living in a state of chaos for six harrowing years. The deepening humanitarian crisis sparked by anti-government protests in March 2011 has led to war crimes and appalling human rights abuses. Syrian government forces, with the support of Russia, have maintained lengthy sieges on civilian areas and subjected tens of thousands to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.
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Armed groups have indiscriminately attacked and bombed civilians, and committed torture and killings. To date, the bloody conflict has left one in 100 Syrians dead, more than half of the population displaced, and a generation of children without safe access to education.
According to the UN special envoy to Syria, the death toll since the beginning of the crisis has surpassed 400,000. More than a fifth of the Syrian population lives as refugees outside their country, and half of the people living inside Syria are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have died, and millions have been forced to flee their homes, these heinous crimes against humanity continue unchecked. Today, the perpetrators responsible for these atrocities have yet to face any consequences and civilians continue to suffer every day – it is time to deliver justice for victims and their families.
A real opportunity for justice exists in a new UN mechanism designed to investigate crimes committed in the Syrian conflict voted for by the UN General Assembly in December.
Amnesty believes the UN resolution has given the people of Syria a glimmer of hope that justice is possible. It calls for the establishment of an independent international mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of the most serious crimes under international law committed in Syria since March 2011. The resolution sends an important signal by bypassing a deadlocked UN Security Council which has proven incapable of ending impunity for crimes under international law or human rights violations in Syria. The mechanism now awaits necessary funds from UN member states to be secured before becoming operational.
This week, to mark six harrowing years of conflict, Amnesty launched the ‘Justice for Syria’ campaign, calling on governments to make accountability a reality for the Syrian people by supporting and funding the UN investigative mechanism.
Amnesty is also calling on world leaders to enforce the principle of “universal jurisdiction” to investigate and prosecute – in their own courts – suspected perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. More than 147 countries have provided for universal jurisdiction over one or more crimes under international law. Currently, several European countries – including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – are in the process of investigating crimes committed in Syria.
Crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by all parties to the conflict in Syria have been widely documented by Amnesty – and other human rights organisations – since the beginning of the crisis. These crimes include extrajudicial executions, torture and deliberate attacks on civilians, homes, medical facilities and schools, as well as enforced disappearances, extermination, and hostage-taking.