A place where bad things happen: the public's normalisation of war crimes in Syrian conflict


This report reveals that the British public has “normalised” war crimes in Syria, i.e. that people have now accepted war crimes as a regular part of everyday life. A YouGov survey, commissioned by Syria Relief, found that 3 in 5 people in the UK believe that attacks on civilian infrastructure are a regular occurrence, but just under half think attacks on civilians in Syria is still deemed as newsworthy.

This report details the factors which have driven the public to “normalise” crimes against humanity conducted within the Syrian conflict; frequency of attacks on civilian life, competing media and political priorities, reluctance to engage with a “foreign issue”, confusion over the complexity of the conflict, the growing insularity of Western societies and the deliberate attempts to discredit war crimes through disinformation campaigns.

In this report we set out that the normalisation of war crimes is a product of a lack of political will, which we demonstrated in a model that details how lack of media coverage feeds into lack of public outrage which feeds into lack of external government pressure on actors in the conflict to stop war crimes causing more attacks which, perversely, causes less media coverage. This creates a cycle of events which stops the development of the political will to stop these atrocities.

At Syria Relief, we don’t believe that Syria should simply be condemned as just ‘a place where bad things happen’, but that every single attack on civilian life in an outrage, no matter how frequent they are. In fact, we would argue that the more frequent they are, the more outrageous they are. However, sadly, the lack of political will has meant – because there are just so many war crimes being committed, there is less anger about it.

We believe we must stop the cycle which prevents the political will developing to put an end to war crimes. We have made 6 recommendations on what we all need to do to stop the spinning of the downward spiral:

  1. Caring

  2. Sharing

  3. Combatting disinformation

  4. Mobilising

  5. Engaging

  6. Donating