The Syrian civil war1
broke out in March 2011 as a protest in a bid to release some teenagers who had
been arrested and tortured after they painted revolutionary slogans in the
walls of their school. After the police opened fire and killed the
demonstrators, to what was termed as a peaceful protest, more people took to
the streets. Inspired by the success of the Arab spring in Tunisia and Egypt
the citizens took to the streets to demonstrate against the oppressive
government of president Bashar-al-Assad.2There was a formation of the
free Syrian Army by defectors from the military and its aim was to overthrow
the government. The acts of the government towards the demonstrators inflamed
the resentment towards the Syrian government which was fueled by lack of
freedom and economic woes. After the formation of a rebel group, The Free
Syrian Army, which consisted mostly of soldiers who had defected from the army
with an aim of overthrowing the government, Syria began to slide into a civil
war. The unrest in Syria, part of a wider wave of 2011 Arab Spring protests, grew out of discontent with the Assad
government and escalated to an armed conflict after protests calling for his
removal were violently suppressed. Also in the civil war lies the issue of
ethnicity, ethnic lines have been used in the conflict whereby President Assad
belongs to the minority sect known as Alawite and those opposing him belong to
the majority group of Sunnis. The Shiites are fighting in support of Assad
while the Sunni are fighting against Assad’s oppressive rule.
There has been a great deal of human rights
violations cases committed by both the government and the rebel group, with the
largest part being done by the government.3
These are crimes against humanity where we had the use of fire against unarmed
civilians, door to door arrest campaigns, the shooting of medical personnel’s
who were trying to help the wounded and raids in hospital. There is also the
issue of war crimes where civilians were tortured, raped enforced disappearance
and civilian suffering where they block access of services as a method of war.
The Syrian government also allegedly denied access to international monitor
humanitarian groups and human rights groups. Overtime government attacks also
shifted from sporadic violence to targeting large scale killing which was characterized
by use of cluster bombs and chemical weapons. According to the United Nations,
an estimated 470,000 people were killed with over 1.9 million wounded in this
war. Reports state that the war
has been characterized by a complete lack of adherence to the norms of international
law. Investigators from the
Organization of Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that chlorine was used
severally in attacking the rebel areas.4To
add on that, the report from Human Rights watch reported the use of torture in
detention facilities run by the Syrian intelligence service. Human Rights also
observe that there was a clear chain of command. There is also an influx of
refugees in neighboring countries of Lebanon and Jordan and according to a
report as in April 2017 there were at least 5 million refugees in different
There are a number of treaties5 at
play in Syria both at the international and regional level. The international
level is where the international human rights crystalizes. Once a state
ratifies a treaty the burden is on the state to make arrangements for the
realization of the laws. In the international level, Syria is a member of the
United Nations therefore some treaties are binding to it but some are not.
First of all, Syria has not signed the Rome statute that makes the use of
poisonous gas during war to be considered a war crime.6
Syria signed but has yet to ratify the convention on biological weapon. In 1953
Syria signed the Geneva Convention which established the general rule for the
treatment of civilians in wars specifically that noncombatants are not to be
subjected to murder, torture, rape or other cruel treatment. Also in 1925 Syria
signed the Geneva Gas protocol which regulates the use of poisonous gas between
states in case of a civil war. Syria
signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 and submitted to inspections and
removal of what it said were stores of chemical weapons in 2014, though
opposition groups maintained they had not given a full account. The
gas attacks during World War I led to
the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which banned the use of chemical and biological
weapons in war. Syria is also a signatory to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) where the right to life is
protected. Although Syria has signed and ratified all of these treaties, it has
failed to adhere to the terms of the treaty and has broken most of the
expectation or requirements of the state in relation to these treaties.
1 War is a state of armed conflict amongst states or societies, which
is characterized by extreme aggression, destruction, and mortality through
means of regular or irregular military forces.
2 Tabbaa, D. and Seimenis, A., 2013. Population displacements as a
risk factor for the emergence of epidemics. Vet Ital, 49(1), pp.19-23.
3 Middle East Watch (Organization), 1991. Syria unmasked: The
suppression of human rights by the Assad regime. Human Rights Watch.
4 Rabil, R.G., 2006. Syria, the United States, and the war on terror
in the Middle East. Greenwood Publishing Group.
5 A treaty is an agreement under international law entered into by
actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations.
This agreement is binding to all the signatories legally.
6 Adams, S., 2015. Failure to Protect: Syria and the UN Security
Council. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 13.