The Syrian civil war1broke out in March 2011 as a protest in a bid to release some teenagers who hadbeen arrested and tortured after they painted revolutionary slogans in thewalls of their school. After the police opened fire and killed thedemonstrators, to what was termed as a peaceful protest, more people took tothe streets.
Inspired by the success of the Arab spring in Tunisia and Egyptthe citizens took to the streets to demonstrate against the oppressivegovernment of president Bashar-al-Assad.2There was a formation of thefree Syrian Army by defectors from the military and its aim was to overthrowthe government. The acts of the government towards the demonstrators inflamedthe resentment towards the Syrian government which was fueled by lack offreedom and economic woes.
After the formation of a rebel group, The FreeSyrian Army, which consisted mostly of soldiers who had defected from the armywith an aim of overthrowing the government, Syria began to slide into a civilwar. The unrest in Syria, part of a wider wave of 2011 Arab Spring protests, grew out of discontent with the Assadgovernment and escalated to an armed conflict after protests calling for hisremoval were violently suppressed. Also in the civil war lies the issue ofethnicity, ethnic lines have been used in the conflict whereby President Assadbelongs to the minority sect known as Alawite and those opposing him belong tothe majority group of Sunnis. The Shiites are fighting in support of Assadwhile the Sunni are fighting against Assad’s oppressive rule.There has been a great deal of human rightsviolations cases committed by both the government and the rebel group, with thelargest part being done by the government.
3These are crimes against humanity where we had the use of fire against unarmedcivilians, door to door arrest campaigns, the shooting of medical personnel’swho were trying to help the wounded and raids in hospital. There is also theissue of war crimes where civilians were tortured, raped enforced disappearanceand civilian suffering where they block access of services as a method of war.The Syrian government also allegedly denied access to international monitorhumanitarian groups and human rights groups. Overtime government attacks alsoshifted from sporadic violence to targeting large scale killing which was characterizedby 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 thiswar. Reports state that the warhas been characterized by a complete lack of adherence to the norms of internationallaw. Investigators from theOrganization of Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that chlorine was usedseverally in attacking the rebel areas.
4Toadd on that, the report from Human Rights watch reported the use of torture indetention facilities run by the Syrian intelligence service. Human Rights alsoobserve that there was a clear chain of command. There is also an influx ofrefugees in neighboring countries of Lebanon and Jordan and according to areport as in April 2017 there were at least 5 million refugees in differentcamps.There are a number of treaties5 atplay in Syria both at the international and regional level. The internationallevel is where the international human rights crystalizes.
Once a stateratifies a treaty the burden is on the state to make arrangements for therealization of the laws. In the international level, Syria is a member of theUnited 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 ofpoisonous gas during war to be considered a war crime.6Syria signed but has yet to ratify the convention on biological weapon. In 1953Syria signed the Geneva Convention which established the general rule for thetreatment of civilians in wars specifically that noncombatants are not to besubjected to murder, torture, rape or other cruel treatment. Also in 1925 Syriasigned the Geneva Gas protocol which regulates the use of poisonous gas betweenstates in case of a civil war. Syriasigned the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 and submitted to inspections andremoval of what it said were stores of chemical weapons in 2014, thoughopposition groups maintained they had not given a full account.
The gas attacks during World War I led tothe 1925 Geneva Protocol, which banned the use of chemical and biologicalweapons in war. Syria is also a signatory to the InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) where the right to life isprotected. Although Syria has signed and ratified all of these treaties, it hasfailed to adhere to the terms of the treaty and has broken most of theexpectation or requirements of the state in relation to these treaties.1 War is a state of armed conflict amongst states or societies, whichis characterized by extreme aggression, destruction, and mortality throughmeans of regular or irregular military forces.2 Tabbaa, D. and Seimenis, A.
, 2013. Population displacements as arisk factor for the emergence of epidemics. Vet Ital, 49(1), pp.
19-23.3 Middle East Watch (Organization), 1991. Syria unmasked: Thesuppression of human rights by the Assad regime. Human Rights Watch.4 Rabil, R.G., 2006.
Syria, the United States, and the war on terrorin the Middle East. Greenwood Publishing Group.5 A treaty is an agreement under international law entered into byactors 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 SecurityCouncil. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 13.