Following the long-overdue admission over the weekend by the US-led coalition that flattened Raqqa in Syria to the civilian deaths documented in Amnesty International’s June 2018 report, War of Annihilation, Amnesty International Australia’s Crisis Campaigns Coordinator Diana Sayed said:
“Australia must now follow the lead of its partners in the US-led Coalition and come clean on any ADF contribution to civilian casualties in Raqqa.
“The Australian Government has dodged Amnesty’s questions to date regarding the exact nature of the roles Australian forces played in this conflict.
“Will this be another Mosul, where we only get to hear the truth when others expose the Australian Defence Force’s failings?
“Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was quick to claim Australian success in the so-called ‘liberation’ of Raqqa. Why the silence now on what exactly our role involved and how many civilians were killed in the process?”
Since the publication of “War of annihilation”: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria on 5 June, senior figures in the US-led Coalition and its member governments took to social media, the airwaves and even the UK Parliament in a bid to dismiss the report’s findings that there was prima facie evidence that several Coalition attacks which killed and injured civilians violated international law.
The only Coalition partner on the ground in Raqqa in the aftermath of the military offensive – the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) – demonstrated a rather different understanding of events during the offensive. In a letter to Amnesty International at the end of June 2018, the SDF pointed to Coalition “mistakes” and “unsuccessful air strikes” resulting in “huge human and material losses” on the ground.
Now, the Coalition has backflipped over the weekend, issuing a press release accepting responsibility for all civilian deaths documented in that Amnesty International report into the aerial bombardment of Raqqa.
It was reported in November 2017 that Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Raqqa had been liberated with the help of Australia. Amnesty International has called on the Australian Government to be open and transparent with the Australian people about the extent to which Australia provided help to the US-led Coalition and any role Australia played in the civilian casualties and suffering in Raqqa.
It was also reported that in June 2017 Australia had six fighter jets based in the United Arab Emirates for strikes in Syria and that Australia, as a US-led Coalition member in the battle for Raqqa, was providing air and ground support for allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Amnesty International has called on the Australian Government to tell us whether it has investigated the possibility of civilian casualties implicating the Australian Defence Force as part of the US-led Coalition, and to release any findings publicly and quickly.