Footage of Omran, 5, may draw the world's attention to the worsening crisis in the Syrian city
His innocent eyes stared at me over and over again as I scrolled through the news streaming from Aleppo down my Facebook feed this morning. Dusty, bloodied, stunned, sitting on a bright orange chair. A video showed him trying to wipe the blood off his hands on the chair, quiet, not sure what to make of what was happening around him.
The images of Omran, the 5-year old boy who was pulled out of the rubble after an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, were taken by a Syrian journalist on Aug. 17. They reminded me of the photo of Alan Kurdi, the young boy washed up on the shores of Turkey last year, whose shocking image served as a jarring reminder of Syria’s tragedy and the suffering of its people. And now the footage of Omran seems to be doing the same for eastern Aleppo, reminding the world that almost 300,000 people live under constant fear of airstrikes and bombardment.
Human Rights Watch has documented illegal airstrikes by the Russian-Syrian military operation in Syria on civilian areas in Aleppo, shutting down schools and hospitals and bombing markets and destroying people’s homes. A Human Rights Watch review of photographs and videos recorded at the time of attack and of the remnants afterward indicates there were at least 18 incendiary weapon attacks on opposition-held areas in Aleppo and Idlib governorates between Jun. 5 and Aug. 10. At least 12 civilians were wounded in five of these attacks, witnesses and first responders told us.
Incendiary weapons are illegal weapons that burn victims and start fires. And Omran isn’t alone – Human Rights Watch has interviewed dozens of injured Syrian civilians from airstrikes, including young children, who were rushed to southern Turkey for treatment. Some have lost limbs, others experienced brain hemorrhaging, and all describe the shock and stunning trauma.
No international aid has entered eastern Aleppo for at least six weeks now, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis inside the city and threatening starvation and disease. The United Nations estimates that at least a third of people in the city depend on aid deliveries via the Castello Road, which aid workers say is now shut down due to the Syrian government and Russian airstrikes.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on warring parties, including the Syrian and Russian governments, to make protecting civilians their top priority, as part of their obligations under international law. We have also called on the United States and Russia to make good on their May 9 promise to investigate attacks in Syria “leading to civilian casualties” and to share the results with the International Syria Support Group Ceasefire Task Force and the U.N. Security Council. Three months later, however, Human Rights Watch is not aware of any joint assessments.
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.