human rights

A Syrian refugee carries a baby on her back, Lebanon, 4 January 2016 (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

By Urvashi Bundel

This weeks marks the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of Syria’s civil war. Since March 2011, so much has been swept away including respect for basic human rights. Now the world needs to work on restoring respect for those rights around the world.

Syrians have endured widespread loss of life, livelihood, education, security and, above all, human dignity and hope. According to the Syrian Center for Policy Research, an independent research organization, the death toll from the conflict reached 470,000 Syrians as of February 2016.

Many thousands have fled rebel groups or government forces. Many have been denied habeas corpus — the right to trial — or have fallen prey to organized crime groups.

Human Rights Watch has concluded that government forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has also documented extrajudicial and summary executions by opposition forces, torture and mistreatment in opposition-run detention facilities, and use of child soldiers by opposition forces.

International media have addressed the burgeoning movement of people from Syria to Europe, but it is important to understand that more than half of the refugees are internally displaced.

The world watches anxiously.

The situation of detainees is critical and is characterized by a large-scale human rights abuses.

In 2014, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution demanding all parties to the conflict to halt torture, enforced displacement, extrajudicial killings and executions. The resolution has been honored in the breach.

International laws have been trampled. The Geneva Convention bans murder and torture, and obligates states to offer due process; other international agreements require states to uphold basic political and human rights.

Yet in Syria, deaths are reported from state-controlled detention centers, many attributed to “heart attack” rather than to the squalid practices and conditions. These conditions violate international rules.

International efforts to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights crimes in Syria have fallen short.

The world watches anxiously as peace talks resume in Geneva.

This week, Human Rights Watch urged international negotiators to ensure that the talks in Geneva include discussions on ways to end rampant human rights abuses in Syria and ensure justice for the victims.

Liberty and security are a fundamental human rights. As we reflect on the five years of conflict, we realize that much remains to be done to ensure compliance with international rules that were crafted to protect those rights but which have been flaunted so blatantly in Syria.


ubundelUrvashi Bundel is a specialist in public international law and international criminal law. She is currently working for the United Nations with a focus on conflict zones. She holds degrees from the Johns Hopkins University in the United States and Leiden University in the Netherlands. She is a 2004 winner of poetry competition at the National Book Fair in India.

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Human Rights Syria: We need to restore human rights