Belfast Telegraph

Protecting innocents will beat IS

By Patrick Corrigan

With the start of US-led air strikes on Islamic State (IS), targets in Syria and Parliament being recalled to discuss British action, attention is once again focused on a conflict that has cost many lives since 2011.

When G8 leaders met in Fermanagh last year, they committed to bringing peace to Syria.

The soaring death toll in the 16 months since, at the hands of Syrian state military, opposition forces and groups such as IS, show how hollow those words have proved.

Yet, despite the 190,000-plus fatalities in Syria, it was IS's taunting of Obama, through sickening beheading videos, that prompted him to act.

But will attacks from the sky and arming opposition groups on the ground end the agony or add to the misery already endured by Syria's people?

Tragically, nobody can answer that question – not Obama, not Cameron, nor the leaders of the Gulf States backing military action.

But world leaders need to demonstrate not just that they are against IS, but that they are on the side of civilians.

This means they must use their power to ensure that international law is respected and attacks on civilians end. Such laws apply to the US military just as much as Syrian forces and armed groups.

It also means no indiscriminate, poorly targeted attacks that leave civilians, in that most horrible of euphemisms, as collateral damage.

In Syria, innocents living in regions under IS control could obviously be at risk. Being on their side means ensuring that arms from the US, UK or elsewhere do not end up in the hands of those government or rebel forces who would use the weapons to attack IS today and to commit serious human rights abuses tomorrow.

While there may be no end in sight to the conflict, lives can be saved by Obama and other leaders demonstrating a clear will to ensure civilians are protected from a war not of their making. That is the only path to lasting peace and justice in a region that needs it more than most.

Patrick Corrigan is Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International

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