Joint statement on the use of barrel bombs by Syrian governmental forces


In the wake of one of the deadliest months for Syrian civilians due to the use of barrel bombs by Syrian governmental forces, FIDH and its partner organisation in Syria, Violations Documentation Center (VDC), urge the Security Council to take decisive action to ensure that the Syrian government immediately end this practice and that those responsible be held accountable.

According to VDC, at least 6,589 civilians [1] have been killed since the start of the Syrian crisis as the result of barrel bombs dropped in heavily populated areas by helicopters of the Syrian air force. Barrel bombs are unconventional and cheap weapons, usually metal containers filled with explosives, shrapnel, or chemicals used with the intent of inflicting maximum destruction. Some barrel bombs dropped in Aleppo have been found to contain chlorine toxic gas. Targets have included hospitals, mosques, and marketplaces. On 10 June 2015, Busra Hospital in Aleppo was destroyed after being hit by 10 barrel bombs. According to Doctors without Borders (MSF), at least nine other medical facilities have been hit with barrel bombs in Aleppo in the past month.

The use of barrel bombs to target civilian areas, including mosques and hospitals, has resulted in the deaths of multitudes of civilians. This should shock the conscience of Security Council members and force them to use their leverage with the Syrian government to immediately put an end to the use of barrel bombs. The UNSC should also look into all possible options to hold those responsible accountable, including by referring this situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court,” said FIDH President, Karim Lahidji.

FIDH also joins various member states and numerous NGOs in urging the UNSC to establish a mechanism to track and publicly expose 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 in Syria and to lay down clear consequences for the violators.

The targets of the barrel bombs have no military objective and reflect the government’s decision to deliberately target civilians. This is a barbaric tactic used by the Syrian government in order to inflict severe suffering and sow fear among the population, especially in areas where rebel forces are allegedly advancing.

The use of barrel bombs may constitute a crime of torture as it has been used by the regime to cause severe pain and suffering for the purposes of intimidating, coercing, or punishing the population. The prohibition of torture is absolute under international law and has the status of jus cogens.

Due to indiscriminate nature of the bombardments and to the failure to abide by the obligation to distinguish between military objectives and civilians and civilian objects, the use of barrel bombs is a clear violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes. Attacks on hospitals are a clear violation of international humanitarian law. Furthermore, as part of a generalized and systematic attack against the civilian population, the use of barrel bombs may also constitute crimes against humanity.

WhileSecurity Council Resolution 2139 called for the end the use of barrel bombs in February 2014, VDC has documented the continued use of barrel bombs by Syrian government forces since then, resulting in the deaths of at least 2,366 civilians in Aleppo alone.

It is time for Security Council members to ensure that all responsible parties are held accountable for the use of barrel bombs, including the senior officers who order their employment, those who manufacture these weapons, and the commanders of bases where barrel bombs « are » loaded into helicopters.

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