Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that “facing Bashar Al-Assad alliance’s use of incendiary weapons cannot be postponed”.
The international human rights organisation called on states participating in the upcoming UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) to agree on the reinforcement of the international law banning the use of incendiary weapons, amid evidence of 30 new attacks during which these arms had been used in Syria.
HRW issued today a statement that included a 13-page report entitled Incendiary Weapons in Syria: Fact or Fiction?
Incendiary weapons contain flammable materials such as napalm, thermite, or white phosphorus.
The report details the unprecedented atrocious damage caused by incendiary weapons while explaining the shortcomings of the current law and outlines the steps that countries must take to respond to this situation.
The States Parties to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) are to discuss incendiary weapons at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva from 19 to 23 November.
Protocol III of the convention imposes some restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons but does not provide adequate protection for civilians, according to the organisation’s statement.
In 2018, the Syrian-Russian military alliance used incendiary weapons in at least 30 attacks in six different Syrian provinces, according to investigations led by HRW.
Most of these attacks were carried out using surface-to-surface missiles, but air-dropped incendiary weapons have also caused damages. For example, a March 16 air strike on Eastern Ghouta killed at least 61 civilians and wounded more than 200, according to the same source.
Human Rights watch documented 90 additional incendiary attacks in Syria from November 2012 to 2017. However, the total number of attacks aggression is likely to be higher.
“States participating in the upcoming United Nations’ conference should address the flaws of Protocol III, and clarify their policies and practices, in addition to dedicating a specialised forum to review the Protocol in a more formal way in 2019 to enhancing its protection of civilians,” the organisation added.
According to Human Rights Watch, Protocol III includes two significant loop holes that have weakened its impact. First, it excludes the definition of multipurpose weapons, such as those containing white phosphorus, although they can cause the same horrific injuries as other incendiary weapons. As such, the burnings caused by white phosphorus could still have a damaging effect on burn incisions and get even worse after days of treatment if wounds were exposed to oxygen.
The second weakness that HRW perceived in the Protocol is that it permits the use of types of ground-launched incendiary weapons in certain circumstances, calling for the elimination of this meaningless distinction because all incendiary weapons have the same effect.
The organisation indicated that “a total ban on incendiary weapons has great benefits for humanity.”
In 1980, the Syrian regime did not sign the CCW, which includes restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons in areas inhabited by a large number of civilians.