Humanitarian law and plight of civilians in Syria


Sir, – The most telling line in your article “Arrests and torture of Syrian refugees returning home reported” (World News, March 17th) was that the Assad regime “did not respond to multiple requests for comment”. This is not surprising and helps explain why people risked their lives in massive peaceful protests in 2011, with many gunned down in the streets day after day, and many more picked up or “disappeared” to die under torture in the regime’s notorious prisons indicted so often in Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reports since then. Your excellent article raises the critical question: given the brutality of the Syrian regime can the more five million Syrian refugees be expected to go home with Assad still in power?

Assad has survived because Russia and Iran have effectively become the bulk of its airforce and ground troops respectively, with Russia prepared to engage in aerial bombing of civilians and target hospitals, schools, markets as well as homes, and protect the Syrian regime using its veto so often in the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, Iran is probably responsible for as much as 80 per cent of Assad’s forces on the ground, including Hizbullah, and with Russia is fully implicated in the Syrian regime’s notorious scorched-earth policy against opposition areas systematically targeting civilians.

When Red Cross founder Henry Dunant in 1864 persuaded diplomats to adopt the First Geneva Convention, that all sick and wounded were entitled to medical treatment on the battlefield, he probably never imagined that over 150 years later not only would that be reversed but civilians would be denied medical treatment, and be directly targeted and hospitals systematically and repeatedly bombed.

Indeed, the way in which 400,000 civilians are being attacked in Eastern Ghouta, and so mercilessly bombed with everything from napalm to illegal cluster munitions, does the notion of humanitarian law even exist anymore? – Yours, etc,


East Wall, Dublin 3.