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Syria: urgent call on warring parties to respect civilians

26-11-2012 News Release 12/230

Geneva/Damascus (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) remains alarmed by the manner in which the parties to the conflict in Syria are conducting hostilities. “Little regard is being paid to the plight of the population by the fighting parties,” said ICRC director of operations Pierre Krähenbühl.

“Close to twenty months of unabated fighting have resulted in massive destruction, the displacement of entire families, thousands of casualties and refugees, and ever-increasing numbers of civilians struggling to obtain basic necessities like food, water and medical care,” Krähenbühl continued. The humanitarian situation in Syria is getting worse by the day and the needs of ordinary people continue to increase.

“As armed confrontations escalate, taking a heavy toll on civilians, we strongly urge all sides involved in the fighting to take immediate action to fully comply with international humanitarian law, otherwise known as the law of armed conflict,” he continued. These rules and principles apply to all parties to the armed conflict in Syria, and impose restrictions on the means and methods of warfare that they may use. The ICRC has repeatedly reminded them that they must at all times distinguish between civilians and persons directly participating in the fighting.

Affected families are facing grief and desperation as the insecurity and general uncertainty regarding their future increase. Livelihoods have been disrupted, health standards have fallen, basic food items are harder to obtain and many children have stopped going to school. Numerous public spaces have been transformed into basic makeshift shelters. Over the past months, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have fled their homes as a result of the conflict. Many have had to cross national borders to seek security, and have found refuge in neighbouring countries.

The ICRC reiterates that under international humanitarian law attacks may be directed only against military objectives and not against civilians, or against civilian objects such as homes, schools, medical facilities and vehicles, community shelters or places of worship. International humanitarian law also stipulates protection for the civilian population and those not (or no longer) participating in hostilities, such as the sick, the wounded and those who have been detained, who must be treated with dignity at all times.

“At a time when humanitarian needs are ever more acute, the ICRC again calls on all those bearing weapons to respect the staff of humanitarian organizations,” added Mr Krähenbühl. The harsh reality is that six Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers have been killed while on duty since the onset of the violence. “The aim of the Red Crescent and the Red Cross is to bring life-saving assistance to those in need, in a completely impartial and neutral manner,” Krähenbühl emphasized. Medical personnel have been working under extreme conditions and have not been spared in the fighting. Everybody must respect and facilitate the work of health personnel at all times, and all sides must respect the red cross and red crescent emblems.

For further information, please contact :

  • Rabab Al-Rifaï, ICRC Damascus, tel: +963 993 700 847 or +963 11 331 0476
  • Cecilia Goin, ICRC Beirut, tel: +963 930 177 746 or +9617 180 2323
  • Alexis Heeb, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 37 72 or +41 79 218 76 10