HRW: Syria using more ‘barrel bombs’ since UN resolution against them

July 30, 2014 – by Tom Kutsch @tomkutsch – Despite a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution condemning aerial “barrel bombs” in Syria, their use by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad has continued unimpeded, a leading human rights group said on Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had documented at least 650 blast sites in rebel-held parts of the contested city of Aleppo that the group said were hallmarks of the bombs — made of gas canisters, oil drums or water stands stuffed with shrapnel and explosives — whose indiscriminate use in civilian areas causes high casualties.

HRW said that both the Syrian government and various rebel groups opposed to Assad continue to fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets in their fighting, but that the barrel bombs represented a particularly egregious failure on the part of Assad’s government to protect innocent life.

HRW called on the Security Council to take further steps to curb the use of bombs, including calling for an arms embargo against the Assad government. Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions that threatened sanctions against Assad, and oppose an arms embargo on the country.

“Month after month, the Security Council has sat idly by as the government defied its demands with new barrel bomb attacks on Syrian civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director.

A Feb. 22 resolution called on all parties in Syria to “cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs.”

That resolution also called for greater humanitarian access for international aid groups and the U.N., in addition to condemning other forms of violence including torture, which has been widespread in detention. Much of the humanitarian access demanded by the resolution has yet to be honored.

HRW’s assessment, which it says it based on satellite imagery, witness interviews and video and photographic evidence, says that the use of barrel bombs has actually increased since the February resolution. It has documented 650 damage sites between then and July 14, a higher rate than the 380 distinct sites it found over the course of 113 days between Oct. 31, 2013, and the date of the February 2014 resolution.

Fighting in Aleppo has been among the fiercest in all of Syria after rebels took control of the city’s former commercial hub in 2012. But in June of this year, Assad forces gained an upper hand after retaking many parts of the city.

With world and media attention increasingly focused on Ukraine and Gaza in the last weeks, the devastation wrought by the three-year-old Syrian civil war has continued unabated.

According to the Syrian Center for Human Rights, 2,378 Syrians were killed during the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan alone, 1,440 of whom were civilians reportedly killed by government forces.

And a report last week showed that more than 700 people, believed to be mostly government and rebel forces, were killed in the bloodiest two-day total in the war.

The conflict has also touched off a catastrophic refugee crisis, with nearly 2.9 million people now registered by the United Nations refugee agency, and an additional 6.4 million displaced within the country.

Assad forces currently control most of Damascus as well as the main corridor from the capital to Homs and the west coast. Rebel groups, which include the powerful and Al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State, retain control of large chunks of the country in the north and east.

With additional reporting by Reuters