Human Rights Watch deplores international failure on civilians in Syria

Governments not vocal enough in criticism of violence for fear it could endanger peace talks, says rights body

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth criticises President Barack Obama, saying he has not gone far enough in reforming the monitoring activities of the NSA and is continuing to violate the privacy rights of individuals.


Human Rights Watch yesterday deplored what it called the failure of international powers to intervene in Syria, saying the desire to bring Bashar al Assad’s government to the negotiating table should not become a pretext for failing to protect civilians caught up in the almost three-year civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

The criticism, in an annual accounting of human rights records around the world, came a day before international negotiations are to begin in Switzerland. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, criticised western governments, in particular the United States, for not being vocal enough in their criticism of the violence for fear that it could endanger the peace talks.

“It is essential that the mass atrocities being committed in Syria be a parallel focus of any diplomatic effort,” Mr Roth said at a news conference in Berlin. He called for an end to the indiscriminate killing of civilians and an opening of Syria’s borders for humanitarian aid. “We cannot afford to wait for the distant prospect of a peace accord before the killing of 5,000 Syrians a month comes to an end.”

In addition to Syria, the report also condemned what it called “lip service” paid by governments in Egypt and Myanmar to democracy. While Syria has suffered, international military missions have been reinforced to protect vulnerable people in some parts of Africa, Human Rights Watch said, pointing to efforts by France, the United States and the United Nations in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

US president Barack Obama’s record on national security issues came under fire in the report, from the continued existence of the detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, to what the group called the unlawful killing of civilians through drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Sharp criticism was reserved for what the organisation called the “virtually unchecked mass electronic surveillance” that was revealed by documents released by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor. While Human Rights Watch praised Mr Obama for appointing a panel to recommend reforms, the group questioned whether the recommendations will translate into concrete policy changes. – (New York Times service)