Government bombs rain on civilians

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AI INDEX: MDE 24/009/2013
14 MARCH 2013


Civilians continue to be at the receiving end of increasingly frequent indiscriminate attacks by Syrian government forces. Imprecise weapons designed for the battlefield are killing, maiming and displacing growing numbers of civilians – many of them children.

Unguided air-delivered bombs, artillery, rockets, and ballistic missiles which cannot be aimed at specific targets and do not distinguish between military targets and civilian objects, and internationally banned cluster munitions are being used daily against civilian residential areas in towns and villages, in utter disregard for the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law.

Government forces also continue to commit other grave violations, including war crimes, notably they frequently arbitrarily detain, torture, disappear and extrajudicially execute men and boys suspected of support for armed opposition groups fighting the state or of support for political opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

In a recent two-week investigation in northern Syria Amnesty International visited 17 towns and villages in the Idlib, Jabal al-Zawiya and Jisr al-Shughour areas and Aleppo city, and carried out field investigations into indiscriminate attacks which killed more than 310 civilians (including more than 157 children and 52 women) and injured hundreds of others. The organization’s findings show that the frequency and scale of such attacks – which constitute war crimes - has increased in recent months, with disastrous consequences for the civilian population.

In all of these cases the attacks were either direct attacks on civilians or indiscriminate; all available information indicates that there were no obvious military targets or military operations or confrontations at or near the sites of the attacks at the time of the attacks. The attacks were indiscriminate as the nature of the weapons and munitions used means that they cannot be aimed at specific targets. Even giving government forces the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that they believed that there were actually military targets in the areas attacked, the routine and repeated use of inappropriate battlefield weapons in residential areas or inherently indiscriminate weapons has meant that civilians were unlawfully killed and injured and civilian objects needlessly destroyed or damaged. These and other attacks investigated in previous months show a pattern of government forces targeting towns and villages which are under the control of armed opposition groups, invariably killing and injuring civilians. And in many such cases government forces carried out direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects – one of the gravest violations of international humanitarian law.

The number of civilians displaced by the conflict has skyrocketed in recent months, with several thousands of Syrians and others fleeing to other countries every day and many more moving from place to place within Syria in search of safe shelter. With Turkey having imposed strict restrictions on the entry of Syrian refugees in recent months, tens of thousands have been left stranded in dire humanitarian and health conditions in makeshift camps on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey.