Justice For Syria: How Satellites Can Help

helicopters aleppo syria

Suspected attack helicopters at Aleppo airport. (c) 2012 GeoEye, produced by AAAS

Newly released satellite images of Aleppo show a highly militarized city, with dozens of roadblocks throughout the city and military vehicles operating in its streets. We used satellite images a couple of months ago to ring the alarm over the increased risk of turning a highly populated area, such as Aleppo, into a battlefield. Our warning turned out to be justified. The weeks that followed saw indiscriminate attacks that have killed and injured scores of civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere in northern Syria.

Today’s analysis, released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and based on imagery from August 9 and 23, provides a detailed follow up to our initial assessment from earlier in July. As the conflict in Syria escalates, the increased deployment of battlefield equipment and tactics in urban areas emerge in satellite images. Here are some of the key findings of the new analysis:

5 Steps Forward, 5 Steps Back: Catching and Convicting War Criminals

international justice fugatives

Click image to view full infographic and list of wanted fugatives

Today, supporters of human rights mark the Global Day for International Justice, an anniversary the need for which makes ‘celebration’ difficult, if not impossible.  A cursory look over last year of developments as it relates to securing justice for the most egregious of crimes—war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—might yield cause for optimism, however.

Five Steps Forward for Justice

  1. Over the last year, following a UN Security Council referral of Libya, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found reasonable grounds for issuing arrest warrants for top Libyan officials, even as conflict was ongoing, demonstrating the ability and importance of the court in active crises.
  2. The ICC saw the first verdict and sentence handed down as Thomas Lubanga answered for conscription of children in devastating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
  3. Also over the last year, Laurent Gbagbo, the former head of state of Cote d’Ivoire, became the first head of state to be surrendered to the ICC for alleged crimes, only one week after his indictment.
  4. At the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic finally faces prosecution for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for the largest mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II.
  5. The first conviction of a former head of state since the Nuremburg trials, as my colleague Angela Chang describes, was a historic step for international justice.


Desperate Reprisals: Documenting the Syrian Regime’s Abuses

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-yZUsI3a1c&version=3&hl=en_US]

The Assad regime in Syria has done everything it can to prevent the world from knowing what it is doing to its people: International media is blocked access to crisis points, international organizations are prevented from doing their jobs and human rights organizations are denied entry.

When details come out, the regime pulls out another old trick of claiming the victims are the transgressors and the government is the victim of terrorists.

The anecdote to this is documentation, and this is where Amnesty International can do valuable work.  Thursday, in a new 70-page report, Deadly Reprisals, the organization provides fresh evidence of widespread as well as systematic violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, being perpetrated as part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting the opposition and to intimidate people into submission.


Technology and Women: #RapeinSyria and "Girls Around Me"

Syrian Women Protest

Syrian women demonstrate against President Bashar al-Assad's regime KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

First, the welcome news: a new tool was launched last week by the Women’s Media Center’s project, Women Under Siege, to track sexual violence committed against women in Syria. Using Ushahidi technology, this project uses crowdsourcing to collect and map evidence of sexual violence, in real time or as close to real time as the “crowd” would like. Survivors, witnesses, and first-responders can submit reports via email, Twitter (using #RapeinSyria) or directly via the site.

Collecting this type of data is vital toward ensuring accountability for human rights crimes related to sexual violence, especially in conflict settings where human rights monitors may be unable to gain access. By highlighting the issue to the public and policy-makers, by empowering women and girls with a tool to share their stories, and by compiling reports of crimes related to sexual violence which are incredibly under-reported as it is, new technological tools allow us to see through the fog of war and send a strong message to perpetrators of violence—your crimes will not go unnoticed. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

19 Reasons Why Russia Must Speak Out Against Syria Atrocities

syria vigil

A top Russian official made the following statement today:

Russia enjoys good and strong military technical cooperation with Syria, and we see no reason today to reconsider it—Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov

While Russia touts its good and normal relations with the Syrian regime, more evidence has emerged of crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian government under President Bahsar al-Assad. Our new report “I Wanted to Die”: Syria’s Torture Survivors Speak Out exposes the system of torture within Syria, on a scale not seen for decades. It identifies 31 methods of torture.


Syrian Perpetrators: Beware the Long Arc Toward Justice

In an overwhelming demonstration of broad global consensus on the ongoing atrocities in Syria, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday adopted a resolution on the Syrian crisis by a vote of 137 to 12.

While a welcome show of outrage over crimes against humanity occurring in Syria, the largely symbolic vote does little to address the abysmal failure of the UN Security Council to act on the situation. This failure—precipitated by vetoes from Russia and China and reminiscent for me of a similarly precipitated failure to act quickly on crimes against humanity in Darfur—has had immediate impact. “Emboldened” by the failure, the Syrian regime actually stepped up attacks on civilians over the last week, killing hundreds in Homs and elsewhere.

I try to avoid charged words. Words like “horrors.” But I am at a loss to label the atrocities unleashed on the civilians of Homs and cities across Syria with anything else. Being so far removed from these horrors—and witnessing much closer the failures in New York—it can be difficult to see any light ahead. But the General Assembly’s resolution offers a glimmer of hope.


The Year of Rebellion

egypt demonstration protest

Demonstrators' resilience in 2011 has changed the regional context for human rights © AP Photo / Tarek Fawzy

This week, we  approach the first major anniversary of the popular uprisings that began to sweep through the Middle East and North Africa last year. On January 14, 2011, Tunisia’s long time president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country to Saudi Arabia. Since December Ben Ali has been on trial – in absentia – along with about 40 other senior officials, for the killing of protesters.

The following weeks will be marked by the anniversaries of uprisings and the resignations of repressive dictators who were ultimately swept away by “a power governments cannot suppress” (transporting a Howard Zinn term to a different region).


How Many More Syrians Have To Die Before The UN Acts?

One of the many public actions mapped out on the Eyes on Syria map: Amnesty International Croatia demonstrated on July 20, 2011, in Zagreb to demanded an end to the bloodshed in Syria. © Amnesty International

Despite ongoing human rights violations, which we believe amount to crimes against humanity, the UN Security Council has shamefully failed the Syrian people so far. Several weeks ago, an already watered down resolution was vetoed by key members of the Security Council. Since this vote, the darkest hour of the Security Council in the context of the MENA uprisings, many more peaceful protesters were killed.

In recent weeks, we have also seen sporadic armed attacks by army defectors against government forces, raising the specter of a full blown civil war.


Syrian Activist Ghayath Mattar Killed In Detention – Show Your Solidarity

Eight ambassadors to Syria took a dramatic step this week in condemning the Syrian crackdown by attending a vigil for a well-known Syrian activist. The activist, Ghayath Mattar, was reportedly killed under torture by security forces last week in Daraya, and his death was honored by hundreds of Syrians and the ambassadors from the US, Great Britain, Japan, and other EU countries.

The coordinated attendance of so many foreign leaders was an unprecedented and powerful statement of solidarity with the Syrian people that follows the deaths of an estimated 2,600 Syrians to date and confirmed reports of at least 95 deaths in detention.

The spiraling total of detainee deaths, together with the Syrian authorities’ failure to conduct any independent investigations, points to a pattern of systematic, government-sanctioned abuse in which every detainee must be considered at serious risk. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

New Report And Website Track Syria's Surge of Deaths In Custody

Hamza Ali al-Khateeb

Hamza Ali al-Khateeb

On April 29, Hamza Ali al-Khateeb joined hundreds of people from al-Jeeza and other villages in peaceful marches towards Dera’a, Syria. The protesters were attacked by Syrian security forces, who reportedly shot at them and arrested several hundred people.

Thirteen year old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb was one of many who went missing. He was later reported to be held by Air Force Intelligence.

On May 24, Hamza’s family received a phone call to say there was a body in the al-Jeeza Hospital morgue which they should see, and one of Hamza’s relatives went to identify his body.