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Syria: ICRC urges full respect for international humanitarian law

04-08-2012 News Release 12/161

Geneva/Damascus (ICRC) – As the armed conflict in Syria escalates and takes a heavy toll on civilians, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is more determined than ever to carry on with its work in order to meet growing humanitarian needs. The organization is appealing to all parties to the conflict to fully respect the rules and principles of international humanitarian law, which is commonly known as the laws of war.

"We urge all parties involved in the fighting to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law," said Robert Mardini, the ICRC's head of operations for the Near and Middle East. ''We have already shared our concerns bilaterally with the Syrian authorities and some opposition armed groups. We are now making this urgent public appeal so that it will reach the warring sides on the ground without delay and at the very time that events are occurring. The objective is to prevent further loss of life and further suffering among civilians caught up in the fighting.''

The hostilities are subject to rules imposing limits on how the fighting can be conducted, with the aim of protecting the civilian population and persons not, or no longer, participating in the hostilities, such as detainees and the wounded.

"Under international humanitarian law, the parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and persons directly participating in hostilities. Attacks may be directed only against military objectives – never against civilians, or against civilian structures such as homes, schools or places of worship," said Mr Mardini. "Especially where fighting is taking place in densely populated urban areas, such as Aleppo, Homs or Damascus, the parties must constantly take care in their choice of means and methods of warfare so as to spare, as far as possible, civilians and civilian infrastructure," he added. "Civilians must be allowed to move freely to safer areas."

It is particularly important that medical services be protected. "In emergency situations such as this, the availability of timely and appropriate medical care is often a matter of life and death," said Mr Mardini. "The wounded and the sick must be able to obtain medical care without delay. All possible measures must be taken by the parties to provide people with the medical care they need or to facilitate their evacuation, without taking any account of what side they may or may not support.'' People's access to medical care also depends on medical personnel, ambulances, hospitals and clinics, and humanitarian relief personnel, being respected and protected from attack. In addition, the red cross and red crescent emblems must be respected in all circumstances. "The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has already lost five of its staff members," pointed out Mr Mardini. "Several ambulances have been shot at or stolen. This lack of respect has made the job of the Red Crescent even more dangerous at the very time when it is most needed."

''Persons detained, or otherwise in the power of a party to the conflict, must be treated humanely in all circumstances,'' added Mr Mardini. Murder, torture and other cruel treatment are prohibited at all times.

Finally, the ICRC official insisted that ''all possible measures must be taken by the parties to the conflict to ensure that people who have fled their homes because of the fighting are safe and receive adequate shelter and health care.''

Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC, in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has provided aid in several parts of the country for over half a million displaced people and others affected by the violence. Despite the difficult and dangerous conditions, the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are committed to doing their utmost to meet the most urgent needs.

For further information, please contact:
Hicham Hassan, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 41 or +41 79 536 92 57
Rabab Al-Rifaï, ICRC Damascus, tel: +963 993 700 847 or +963 11 331 0476