Human Rights Groups Divided Over Potential Syria Intervention

Human rights groups are divided over the potential military response by the United States to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. Here’s where some of the leading rights organizations stand...

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Goran Tomasevic / REUTERS

A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during clashes with Syrian Army in the Salaheddine neighborhood of central Aleppo August 7, 2012.

Human rights groups are divided over the potential military response by the United States to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. Here’s where some of the leading rights organizations stand:

Human Rights First

“The worsening situation in Syria demands a much greater level of engagement from the Obama Administration,” a representative for Human Rights First said a press release Wednesday. “That engagement should take many forms, possibly including military options within the boundaries of international law, but should also include diplomatic, economic and humanitarian elements.”

Doctors Without Borders

“No, Doctors Without Borders does not endorse or call for a military strike on Syria,” said Tim Shenck, press officer for Doctors Without Borders, in an e-mail to TIME. “We have been calling for an independent investigation of the incident described in our August 24 press release, which could constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” That press release describes last week’s attack where neurotoxic patients were treated with supplies from Doctors Without Borders.

Amnesty International

Many human rights organizations are unconvinced that a military intervention is the right course of action.  “Amnesty International neither condemns nor condones armed intervention,” a spokesperson for the organization told TIME. “It also takes no position on the legality or moral basis for any such action. In situations of armed conflict, Amnesty International focuses on ensuring that warring parties respect international humanitarian law and human rights.”

Human Rights Watch

“Human Rights Watch does not take a position advocating or opposing such intervention,” the organization wrote in a statement Wednesday. “But any armed intervention should be judged by how well it protects all Syrian civilians from further atrocities.”

Refugees International

“Refugees International (RI) is deeply concerned about the impact that any military escalation could have on displaced Syrians across the region,” the organization said Wednesday. “RI therefore urges Syria’s neighbors to commit to an open-border policy for Syrian refugees regardless of any future hostilities. RI also calls upon the United States, European Union, and other major donors to provide all necessary humanitarian support to these front-line states.”

Physicians for Human Rights

“We are not taking a stance on any potential military strikes,” said a spokesperson for Physicians for Human Rights in an e-mail. “But would call on any side to follow international humanitarian law, and ensure that the injured and the wounded are taken care of, without discrimination.”

Past Positions

The groups’ reaction fits with past positions regarding armed conflict. In 2011, Amnesty International did not take a position on NATO airstrikes on Libya, and later said that the organization “generally takes no position on the use of armed force or on military interventions in armed conflict, other than to demand that all parties respect international human rights and humanitarian law.” Before the 2003 Iraq invasion, HRW announced, “Consistent with our established policy, Human Rights Watch takes no position on the legality or appropriateness of such a war.”

HRW has followed a wide interpretation for requiring military assistance.

“The killing in Iraq at the time was not of the exceptional nature that would justify such intervention,” the group said in 2004. “We believe that humanitarian intervention should be reserved for situations involving mass killing. We understand that ‘mass’ killing is a subjective term, allowing for varying interpretations, and we do not propose a single quantitative measure.”