Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS)

Syria .. War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity

“Mankind must put an end to atrocities or atrocities will put an end to mankind”. What is happening in Syria is beyond description; an oppressed people that has not tasted freedom for forty years now, in spite of it being one of the main objectives of the leader party and the community. During these forty years of brutal suppression, this party could not achieve this goal, and, instead, ruled through the state of emergency declared since 1963. When this declaration was announced to be cancelled, repression and brutality increased, turning one of the richest countries in the region, with vitality, cultural eclecticism and a rich treasure trove, to a country where nearly half of its population exist in poverty and destitution. Corruption and tyranny have dominated the different aspects of daily life, and the basic foundation of education, health and management deteriorated to a level much lower in ranks compared to the rest of the world. After forty years of being brainwashed by the literature and objectives of the current regime, this generation is now saying “no more”, and has risen up against such injustice and servility.  They have gone out in the cities and villages, in the deserts, to denounce this brutal dictatorship through peaceful protests. But these peaceful protesters are faced with bloody government police crackdown who use iron and fire; killing without mercy all those who oppose this tyrannical regime. Atrocious and barbaric crimes have been committed against the citizens of Syria whose only defensive weapons are a relentless courage and invincible determination to achieve freedom and dignity.

The Syrian issue has several security and political dimensions; the unprecedented public demand to change the regime in Damascus is the most important pillar of the movement.  However,  this requirement has regional factors keen to maintain this system of government because it serves strategic interests important for countries in the region such as Iran, which dominated the Iraqi political scene and entered into undeclared alliances with Afghanistan.  The ultimate goal of Iran is to expand its powers to reach the shores of the Mediterranean and to take control and impose its will on the Gulf region. Iran is a powerful ally of the current Syrian regime and anyone confronting this alliance will have to face not only Syria but Iran also.  Meanwhile, Israel finds justification for the presence of the existing regime in Damascus as being a protector of the northern border, maintaining its military presence in Golan Heights.  Added to its military interests in this area, is the security of its fresh water supply which amounts to 37% which the Golan Heights provide. Therefore, it is very obvious that Israel shall not give up its vested interest in the survival of the current regime for another government with unspecific parameters.

The Syrian army, the Home Protectors, swore loyalty to the country to defend and protect its people and territory. However, security forces and gangs were not enough for the ruling regime in facing the mass peaceful movement which has previously demanded reform, and now, facing the intransigence, loss of credibility and lack of confidence in the system, has turned to demanding the change of this regime.  The ruling regime pushed the Syrian army to commit atrocities against the Syrian people calling for freedom. They have asked, "What kind of freedom do they want?", as if it is a puzzle so difficult to solve! No one has being held accountable for this bloody massacre taking place, and the situation has become even worse and more unbearable. The plight of the Syrian people has taken national, regional and international dimensions, and its repercussions shall not remain confined to the Syrian geographical scope; Syrians, from all parts of the country, fearing for their lives, are seeking refuge in neighboring countries; which requires an act of relief. Violations, on the other hand, constitute human rights dimension; that killing machine harvesting hundreds of people every day, whether they be mostly civilians, or military personnel killed either as a result of shooting fire from those defending themselves, or for refusing to obey the orders to kill, which they receive from their field leaders, is taking a legal dimension. Brave officers and soldiers have forsaken the army, out of faith and devotion to their oath to protect their homeland and defend the people. They have refused to direct their guns and weapons on their own people, thus the Free Syrian Army, which, with modest capabilities, provides protection with high spirits for some regions and cities.
Facing this situation, what is the legal dimension that applies to cases of murder, arrest, torture, rape and displacement suffered by the Syrian people, and are these acts war crimes and crimes against humanity? We review this based on legal rules and treatments with international standards.

First, according to the stipulation of the Article (7) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted in Rome on 17/07/1998, about the crimes committed against humanity, it says:

1. For the purpose of this Statute, any of the following acts constitutes "a crime against humanity" when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack intentionally directed against any civilian population

A. Intentional Murder. B. ………………           C. …………………. D. ……………………..

E. Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, in violation of fundamental rules of international law.

F. Torture

G. Rape or sexual slavery


2. For the purpose of paragraph (1):

A. The statement "An attack directed against any civilian population" means a course of conduct that involves a multiple commission of the acts referred to in paragraph (1) against any civilian population, pursuant to a State or organizational policy to commit such attack, or in furtherance of this policy.

E. Torture means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physically or mentally, to a person under the supervision and control of the accused,  yet  without any torture, pain or suffering arising only from legal penalties, constituting part of them, not consequent to them.

Second: Article (8) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court mentioned war crimes saying:
1.   The Court shall have jurisdiction in respect of war crimes, in particular when committed as part of a plan or policy, or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.
2.   For the purpose of this Statute, "War Crimes" mean:
A.          Gross violations of Geneva Conventions, of 12 August 1949, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the related provisions of Geneva Convention:
1.   Intentional Murder.
2.   Torture or inhuman treatment.
3.   Willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.
4.   Causing widespread destruction and appropriation of property without there being justified by military necessity and in violation of law and in an absurd manner.
5.    ….
6.   Willfully depriving a prisoner of war or another protected person of his right to a fair and regulatory trial.
B.          ….. International armed conflict.
C.          In the event of armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of article 3 common among the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts committed against persons taking no active part in war hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their weapons, and those who have become hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other reason:
1.               The use of violence against life and persons, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.
2.               Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment
3.               Taking hostages.
4.               The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all judicial guarantees generally recognized as indispensable.
D.         Paragraph 2 (c) applies to armed conflicts not of an international character and thus does not apply to situations of internal disturbances and tensions; such as riots, acts of violence, whether isolated or sporadic, and other acts of similar nature.
E.          Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts:
1.   Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such, or against individual civilians not taking direct part in war hostilities.
2.   Intentionally directing attacks against buildings, materials, medical units, etc.
3.   Intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, units or vehicles involved in humanitarian assistance.
4.   Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, scientific, artistic or charitable purposes.
5.   ….
F.          Paragraph 2(e) applies to armed conflicts not of an international character and thus does not apply to situations of internal disturbances and tensions; such as riots or acts of violence, whether isolated or sporadic, or other acts of similar nature, and applies to armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State where there is a protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups, or among such groups.
Nothing in paragraphs (C) and (D) what impacts the government’s responsibility to maintain or re-establish law and order in the State, or to defend its unity and territorial integrity by all legitimate means.

Third: Excessive Use of Force at the domestic level:
Common Article (3) of Geneva Convention of 1949, provides for the following:
"In the event of armed conflict not of an international character in the territory of a High Contracting Party, each Party involved in the dispute shall, at the minimum, commit to apply the following provisions:

1. Persons taking no active part in hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion, belief, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
For this purpose, the following acts shall be prohibited with respect to the person’s abovementioned, and shall remain prohibited at all times and places:
A.   Violence against life and body, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.
B.   Taking hostages.
C.   Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment of dignity.
D.  Issuance of sentences and carrying out executions without previous judgment pronounced by a court legally constituted, affording all judicial guarantees as deemed necessary by civilized peoples.
3.   Collecting the wounded and the sick and taking care of them.
An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Red Cross, may offer its services to conflicting parties, who, in turn, shall further endeavor, through special agreements, to implement all or some of the other provisions of this Agreement, and not in the application of the preceding provisions in a manner that impacts the legal status of the conflicting parties.
The Second Protocol of 1977 supplementing Geneva Conventions referred to the violations that occur in armed conflicts not of international character. Legal provisions in the Statute of the international tribunals related to trying perpetrators of international crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes (such as the Nuremberg and Tokyo courts, as well as the International Criminal Court of Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) stipulates the prosecution of individuals accused of violations of human rights and violation of the provisions of Common Article (3) of Geneva Conventions and their supplementing Protocol.

Fourth: War crime and crimes against humanity as international crimes, and their gravity:
The civilized world has recognized the seriousness of systematic violations of human rights principles and norms of international law by the use of violence, whether in conflicts between states or within them, resulting in the loss of innocent lives and injury to people with gross deformities, in addition to depriving people of their homeless turning them into refugees or displaced persons, and other human tragedies; reasons and methods of gross violations of the multiple rules of law; including the forms of murdering and torturing citizens in the State under the system of oppressive authoritarian that does not hesitate to kill, and which is working to impose tyranny on the country, indifferent to the rights of human subjects and the country, surpassing all limits of legal, legislative and heavenly status. Such violations constitute blatant challenge, not only to human beings and their existence, but also to the human conscience on the ethical level. At the legal level, they represent a flagrant and explicit violation of firm international legal rules with source in general customary rules, international legal principles, and legal texts of a convention which the entire world deems dangerous; being a violation of human rights internationally criminalized. At the level of collective security, these violations regulated on a large scale, and sustained to human rights, are a waste of these rights and disregard of the values ??of freedom and human dignity, leading to a disintegration of social harmony, threatening civil peace, and undermining regional stability; which means, in a way or another, a breach of international peace and security; the interest of all international conventions, which requires the intervention of international relief and humanitarian organizations, as well as those interested in regional and international peace and security, moving the international community or some of its states for humanitarian grounds, intervening in various forms in the national issue, to work on stopping violations, reducing them, and taking preventive measures to prevent their recurrence.
Of the international crimes are war crimes related to serious violations of conventional provisions and customary legal rules, which aim to protect human beings and their environment from damages arising from the use of armed force, not only among countries but within communities. These offenses concerning violations of the rules of "law of war" and "international humanitarian law", on which a legal complicated system has been built; in particular murder, torture, hostage-taking; once this is done within a general policy and on a large scale, especially with targeting children and women, shall bring forth the a criminal responsibility on individuals; leaders and soldiers.
Crimes against humanity are given in committing acts of assault as part of a common or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with an awareness of such abuse; particularly murder, torture, rape, forced deportation, and hostage-taking. These acts, whether committed in time of war or peacetime, constitute a violation of legal rules on the protection of human rights and a crime against humanity when directed against civilians, or any part of them, and as part of attacks on a large scale.

Fifth: Conclusion
In the case of Syria, the referred-to acts of killing, torture and abuse of freedom and human dignity, as well as the random arrest and field execution without trial, not to mention rape of women, displacement, and attacks on the wounded and the injured, in addition to preventing relief convoys and humanitarian organizations access to places affected to render aid and assistance and to prevent food and medicine, prohibiting means of communication and neutral media access to areas of event, further to targeting journalists with death and injury, as severally evidenced and indicated as practiced on a large scale against civilians and military people against cities and villages as well as hospitals and public facilities, and the use of heavy weapons to bomb cities and villages; all under a systematic movement and widespread violation of the rules of the law of war, international humanitarian law and the International Bill of Human Rights for a period of about a year now, and in different regions and cities in Syria, which had been condemned by the Arab League, which issued a decision includes a suspension of the Syrian Arab Republic in the regional organization, protesting against the violence practiced by the regime, and as condemned by the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Council of Human Rights, and the majority of countries in the world. Such acts and violations constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity in the legal concept, and have been extracted from the rules of customary law and the Convention, arranging the criminal liability not covered by the limitations they place; they are under criminal, judicial, national, and international accountability; no matter how long it takes.