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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Amnesty condemns US-led coalition over Raqqa civilian killings

Rights group called for probe to establish facts behind deadly strikes and avoid future mistakes

Damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria. Amnesty International urged the US-led military coalition to investigate airstrikes that killed civilians in the campaign to liberate the city from ISIS. AP
Damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria. Amnesty International urged the US-led military coalition to investigate airstrikes that killed civilians in the campaign to liberate the city from ISIS. AP

Amnesty International on Monday condemned the US-led coalition's failure to acknowlege and investigate its role in civilian killings during the battle a year ago to oust ISIS from Syria's Raqqa.

In October last year, a Kurdish-Arab alliance pushed the extremist group out of the northern city, backed by air strikes of the US-led coalition.

During the campaign to expel ISIS, hundreds of civilians were killed in the battle, most of them in coalition bombardments, Amnesty says.

"The US-led coalition's ongoing failure to admit to, let alone adequately investigate, the shocking scale of civilian deaths and destruction it caused in Raqqa is a slap in the face for survivors," the London-based group said in a statement.

One year on, Amnesty says that the coalition had admitted to having caused just 100 civilians deaths in the Raqqa assault, but even in those cases accepted no liability.

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"It is completely reprehensible that the coalition refuses to acknowledge its role in most of the civilian casualties it caused," Amnesty's new secretary-general Kumi Naidoo said.

And it is "abhorrent that even where it has admitted responsibility, it accepts no obligation towards its victims".

Denouncing a "disturbing pattern" of civilian deaths, the rights groups urged the coalition to conduct a probe, both to establish the facts behind each deadly strike, and to avoid any future mistakes.

"Surely, with hundreds of civilians dead, it begs the question what went wrong," Mr Naidoo said, urging the coalition to look into issues such as weapons used and quality of intelligence.

"These are crucial details, to establish both facts and assess lawfulness, as well as learn the lessons necessary to avoid similar mistakes," he said.

The latter was "fundamental to minimising harm to civilians - a legal obligation", he said.

ISIS overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, declaring a so-called "caliphate" there, and the coalition intervened the same year to fight the extremist group.

The fighters have since seen their proto-state crumble, but cling on to a presence in the Syrian desert and in an eastern pocket near the Iraqi border where they are under attack by coalition-backed forces.

Since 2014 the US-led coalition has acknowledged direct responsibility for more than 1,100 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq, but rights groups put the number killed much higher.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, says coalition strikes in Syria alone have killed more than 3,300 civilians.

Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.