Protect Civilians
Enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2139
Syria needs a No-Fly Zone

Since March 2011, when protests began against the dictatorship in Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed. Many thousands of those killed, likely tens of thousands of them, were killed by regime air attacks using planes and helicopters dropping conventional bombs, barrel bombs, and chlorine chemical weapons. Many thousands more, adults and children, have been maimed.

As many as 95% of those killed in regime air attacks have been civilians.

In February 2014, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2139 which included the demand “that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs, and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering…”

UNSCR 2139 closed with the Security Council expressing “its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance,” but since then no action has been taken by the UNSC to stop the air attacks.

In the absence of further steps by the UNSC as a whole, and with UNSC permanent member Russia both arming Syria’s air force and also blocking collective UNSC action, individual states enjoying the privilege of permanent membership of the UNSC must take responsibility: specifically France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These three states have the proven ability to stop the Assad regime’s air attacks against civilians almost immediately. Whether individually or collectively, as an exceptional measure in support of purposes laid down by the UN Security Council, they must act to stop this slaughter.



The latest report released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights gave a minimum number of 191,369 confirmed violent deaths in Syria for the period from March 2011 to April 2014. According to the report, that number is “likely undercounting the true total
number of conflict-related killings that have occurred during this time period.”


According to the UN report, 61,816 unique killings were documented from May 2013 through April 2014: between 4344 and 6565 killings each month. The number killed since is therefore very likely to be in the tens of thousands.

The UN report doesn’t provide details of what number were killed by air attacks, but one of their sources does: the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. The overall VDC numbers are lower than the UN numbers, as the UN numbers are assembled by cross-checking reports by a number of organisations, not just the VDC. The VDC has documented 127,116 confirmed violent deaths (up to 27 Dec. 2014 and including regime deaths) of which 15,244 are listed as killed by ‘warplane shelling’. Of those, 14,505 are listed as civilian, 2,488 as male children, 1,432 as female children.


The VDC total number for the period covered by the UN report (to April 2014) is 109,531 confirmed violent deaths including regime deaths, just over half of the UN number, so it’s reasonable to assume that VDC numbers for confirmed deaths by air attack are also significantly lower than the true total. If the VDC undercount of air attack victims is on the same scale as their overall undercount, then the number killed by air attacks would be at least 26,000, with 25,000 of those being civilians.


UN Security Council Resolution 2139:


UN documents for Syria including Secretary General’s monthly reports following UNSCR 2139:


Post on legality and practicality of a No-Fly Zone, including details of the legal precedents set by the Kosovo intervention:



Previous no-fly zones have been enforced either by regular air patrols as seen in Bosnia and Iraq in the 1990s, or by the the destruction of air force capacity as seen in Libya in 2011. A third option is a Deter and Retaliate strategy, which would mean only acting if a declared no-fly zone was violated, and then only by striking selected military targets on the ground rather than attempting air interception of violating aircraft.

Deter and Retaliate:


Reasons for favouring a limited strike option:


For Syria No-Fly Zone, Less Is More:



This blog is by Mr Kellie Strøm, London.

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