By Fady Khoury
Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel issued a press release on Tuesday denouncing the Syrian regime’s attacks on its own citizens. The organization – whose name means “justice” in Arabic – said that the attacks amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, violating international criminal law and more specifically the Rome Statute and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949:
Adalah condemns the brutal massacre committed by the Syrian regime on 3 and 4 February 2012 against its own citizens in Homs, where it used tanks, artillery and mortar fire in densely-populated civilian areas. The attacks resulted in the deaths of over 200 people and the injury of hundreds of others, according to multiple sources. This massacre and the systematic killing of citizens by the Syrian regime, which began with the outbreak of pro-reform protests in March 2011, has so far claimed at least 7,100 lives, according to local coordination committees. Intentionally directing attacks against civilians is considered a crime against humanity in international criminal law, specifically Article 7 of the Rome Statute, and a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of 1998. Willful killing and causing wanton, extensive destruction to property are also considered grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
Adalah’s mandate is to promote and defend the rights of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. The Syrian matter clearly exceeds this mandate, but the severe violations of Syrians’ basic human and civil rights shocks the conscience of any human rights advocate.
Instead of confronting allegations of oppression, misconduct and civilian killings, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has avoided responsibility; censored media coverage; waged a campaign of deliberate misinformation; and blamed the protestors of plotting with foreign bodies, agencies and countries to destroy Syria. The regime’s actions can be explained by the absence of a democratic conception of human rights in a state that has been under emergency law since 1963.
The counter-violence of armed groups should also be a source of concern for the safety of civilians, said Adalah:
The brutality inflicted by the Syrian regime on its citizens is a direct result of a systemic lack of democracy and respect for human rights in the country. The regime is based on militaristic oppression, which it has employed against its own people for decades. The Syrian regime has repeatedly refused to admit responsibility for the killings, and is instead waging a campaign of deliberate misinformation. Acts of violence against civilians are also being perpetrated by unidentified armed groups; however, the regime’s violence does not justify acts of counter-violence or reprisals by other parties.
In addition to calling on both sides – the Syrian regime and the groups that apply armed resistance – to cease the violence, and for the installation of a democratic regime based “on the rule of law, the separation of powers, and respect for human rights and civil rights for all,” Adalah also expressed the need for an “independent and effective investigation into the Homs massacre and other acts of violence against citizens in Syria based on international standards of independence, impartiality, transparency, promptness and effectiveness.”
It is of great importance to end the violence and move Syria toward a real democratic regime in which the citizens are able to control their collective fate; determine their own political and civic lives; and realize their basic political, civil and human rights according to international standards. But the events of the last year, and especially of the last weekend in Homs, must be investigated, and those who are responsible must be held accountable.
The numbers of dead resulting from a war cannot by themselves provide enough evidence for a conviction of crimes against humanity or war crimes, and little can be known for certain while the war is still going on. However, one cannot ignore the numbers of those killed, because they serve as an indication of the high probability of gross misconduct on the part of the Syrian regime, and warrant an independent criminal investigation in order to either refute any wrongdoing or to establish criminal behavior.
The partial picture we have of the Syrian matter raises significant concerns as to how horrific the unknown may be.
Fady Khoury is a legal intern at Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not Adalah.