Library special Syria Crisis: Humanitarian Law, Warfare, Refugees

The Syrian civil war is an ongoing multi-sided armed conflict in Syria in which international interventions have taken place. The war grew out of the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring and escalated to armed conflict after President Bashar al-Assad's government violently repressed protests calling for his removal. The war is now being fought among several factions: the Syrian Government, a loose alliance of Syrian Arab rebel groups, the Syrian Democratic Forces, Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) who often co-operate with the rebels, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The factions receive substantial support from foreign actors, leading many to label the conflict a proxy war waged by both regional and global powers.

Under the Assad regime, Syria went through significant neoliberal economic reform. This reform exacerbated disparities in wealth, which combined with a recession and several years of drought led to the spread of the Arab Spring to Syria. Protests quickly spread to the predominantly Kurdish areas of northern Syria. Syrian opposition groups formed the Free Syrian Army and seized control of the area surrounding Aleppo and parts of southern Syria. Over time, factions of the Syrian opposition split from their original moderate position to pursue an Islamist vision for Syria as al-Nusra Front and Islamic State. In the north, Syrian government forces largely withdrew to fight the FSA, allowing the Kurdish YPG to move in and claim de facto autonomy. In 2015 the YPG joined forces with Arab, Assyrian, Armenian and Turkmen groups forming the Syrian Democratic Forces. International organizations have accused the Syrian government, Islamic State and other opposition forces of severe human rights violations and of multiple massacres. The conflict has caused a considerable displacement of population. On 1 February 2016, a formal start of the UN-mediated Geneva Syria peace talks was announced by the UN but fighting continues unabated.

Violence in Syria has escalated amid an absence of meaningful efforts to end the war. A confidential list of individuals and units are believed to be responsible for crimes against humanity, breaches of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations. The government and its allies carried out deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Imprisonment and torture remain rampant. Armed groups opposing the government have attacked civilians, used child soldiers, kidnapped, and tortured. The extremist Islamic State, and Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, were responsible for targeting civilians, kidnappings, and executions. Even the use of chemical weapons has been confirmed by the United Nations. According to local Syrian groups, as of October 2015, the conflict’s death toll topped 250,000 people, including more than 100,000 civilians. About 7.6 million people are internally displaced, with 4.2 million refugees in neighboring countries.

469-c-22Syria Crisis: Selective Bibliography

This bibliographic survey is intended to provide information for international lawyers and law students on materials concerning the current crisis in Syria The survey is exclusively based on materials available in the Peace Palace Library, The Hague. It includes books, articles, book-items, inaugural lectures, dissertations and reports, both in print and electronic format. Items are listed only once, under their most appropriate heading.


Arab Spring, History, Politics and Government

Keywords: Arab Spring, History, Non-State actors, Politics and Government, Revolutions, Sectarianism

International Response to the Conflict

Keywords: Diplomacy, International politics, Intervention, Israel, Peace initiatives, Responsibility to Protect doctrine, The West, Turkey

Applicable Law

Keywords: Chemical weapons, Civil war, Geneva conventions, International humanitarian law, International human rights law, International criminal law, Non-international armed conflicts, Warfare

Impact of the Conflict

Keywords:  Cultural heritage, Deaths, Disease, Humanitarian questions, Migration, Refugees

This bibliographic survey is compiled and updated by R. Steenhard. If you have any suggestions or questions about this bibliography, please don't hesitate to ask the librarian:

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Librarian's choices

  • 449 G 12

  • 503 H 23

  • 506 G 42

  • 475 C 45

  • 482 D 3

  • 502 H 4