by Jessica Poarch
Last July the ICRC ruled that Syria was in a civil war bringing the conflict under the LOAC.* On 13 May, IRIN, a humanitarian news source sponsored by the UN, published two stories looking at how the Syrian rebels view the Laws of War. The first story, “Syrian rebels on IHL: In their own words,” is a collection of statements by different sections of the rebel fighters on their views on the rules applicable to the conflict. The statements are a telling collection of varying views that clearly exhibit the lack of uniformity in leadership and mission of the rebel fighters. The opinions range from that of a former Colonel of the Syrian Army now commanding a unit of the Free Syrian Army who has been educated on the principles of LOAC and feels that respecting the law is what separates the rebels from the Syrian government to a member of an Islamist group who only subscribes to the Shariah and fain no respect for international laws such as the LOAC.
The second story, “Sometimes you cannot apply the rules – Syrian rebels and IHL” is an analysis of the statements made by the rebels in the larger context of the rules governing the rebel fighters. This article uses the statements of the fighters regarding their views of the LOAC to show which sources of IHL rules they (the rebels) respect–International Law, in some cases, but mostly Islamic law. The article then goes on to explain the systemic issues faced by the rebel leaders in getting their troops to adhere to the rules.
The general conclusion that can be gleaned from these two articles is that there is no clear, agreed upon set of rules being followed by the rebel forces. Although there are groups who are attempting to educate fighters on the Laws of War, the lack of unified leadership is making the success of the process slow.