“We live in constant fear of whether we will live or die. I want the rockets to stop. I want to go back to my home and live peacefully.”–Manal*, a mother of two from Hama.
As the war in Syria enters its fifth year, civilians continue to suffer from extreme violence–much of it directly targeting civilians. Syrian civilians are caught from all sides—the Assad regime, government militias, Russian airstrikes, ISIS, armed opposition groups, and the anti-ISIL coalition air strikes. Civilian harm attributed to the regime continues to be the primary cause of death, injury, and displacement, followed by that caused by ISIS. But operations of the armed opposition groups and Russian and anti-ISIL coalition airstrikes have also reportedly resulted in civilian harm.
Since 2012, CIVIC has talked with civilians living in Syria, as well as with Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon about their experiences, types of harm suffered, self-protection strategies to keep their families safe, and what assistance they need from the international community. CIVIC has interviewed Syrians of varied backgrounds, including leaders of the political and armed opposition, Syrian army defectors, UN staff, local and international NGO staff, government and military officials, lawmakers, diplomats, doctors and nurses, journalists, civil society activists, and religious leaders. Many of them raised concerns about the dangers posed by simply going about their daily lives. We have also spoken extensively with the armed opposition about civilian protection and identified additional trainings that are needed to minimize civilian harm.
Since US-led operations against ISIS began in 2014, we have engaged with the US government to ensure that policies are in place to minimize civilian harm and to track, investigate and make amends to civilians harmed by operations in Iraq and Syria. While the capability to make amends in Iraq still exists due to previous US involvement there, we had to work to convince the US government to approve the making of amends for Syrian victims. We are also working to ensure that any training for the Syrian armed opposition incorporate measures to minimize civilian harm.
CIVIC’s published materials include recommendations to nations who are offering technical and material assistance to the Syrian opposition, the issue brief Civilian Protection in Syriaanalyzing the civilian protection mindset of the armed opposition, and Civilian Harm & Assistance describing what Syrians told us about the harm they suffered and types of assistance they need. CIVIC also convened an expert roundtable to consider the impact of foreign military involvement in Syria on civilians. In 2016, we will be publishing a report on how the international community could support ongoing, but imperfect, self-protection measures adopted by Syrians to protect themselves from air strikes, ground attacks, and unexploded ordnance (UXO).