The Syrian Regime is still Dropping Barrel Bombs Despite the De-Escalation Agreements
SNHR has published its monthly report on the use of barrel bombs by Syrian regime forces for the month of August.
The report highlights the de-escalation agreement in Syria, which commenced on May 6, 2017, after it was announced at the end of the fourth round of Astana talks which was held between representatives from Russia, Turkey, and Iran as the states that sponsored Ankara Ceasefire agreement. The agreement outlined four major de-escalation areas, where a cessation of combat operations will take place in these areas, humanitarian aids will be delivered, and IDPs residents will be allowed a return to these areas. These areas, as specified by the agreement, are: Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas (parts of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia governorates), northern Homs governorate, Eastern Ghouta, and parts of Daraa and al Quneitra governorates in the southern parts of Syria. It was provided that an expert committee would accurately assign the borders of said zones at a later date.
The report also notes that an extensive round of talk that commenced in May 2017 in the Amman, Jordan’s capital, between Russia, USA, and Jordan was followed by an announcement by the American and Russian presidents, on the sidelines of the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg, that a ceasefire agreement has been reached in southwestern Syria – Daraa, Quneitra, and Suwayda governorates. The agreement went into force at 12:00 on Sunday July 9, 2017, and provided for the passage of humanitarian aids in addition to a ceasefire between the conflicting parties (Syrian regime forces and their allies on one side, and armed opposition factions on the other side). Also, the agreement specifies that maintaining security in this region is the Russian forces’ responsibility in coordination with the Americans and Jordanians. The report adds that since the agreement went into effect, the included areas saw a relatively noticeable and good decrease in killing rates compared with the previous months since March 2011.
Then, the report talks about other local agreements that have been struck, such as Eastern Ghouta between armed opposition factions in Eastern Ghouta and officials from the Russian side, and a similar agreement in northern suburbs of Homs governorate. However, the texts of these agreements haven’t been made public on Russian government’s websites, and the same for armed opposition factions who didn’t publicize these agreements, except for Failaq al Rahman who published the text of the agreement on their official website. At the end of the agreement, according to the copy on Failaq al Rahman’s website, a signature by a Russian sponsor was shown but without an explicit name, which is a great flaw, as apparently all of this helps the sponsoring Russian side to easily dissolve from these agreements with no subsequent political or legal obligations and repercussions.
A de-escalation agreement was signed, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, in Egypt’s capital Cairo on Saturday, July 22, 2017, in Eastern Ghouta following a round of talks between Russian military officials and factions from the armed opposition that took place in Egypt’s capital Cairo. The agreement was to come into effect at 12:00 of the same day, while Failq al Rahman joined the agreement after a representative from the faction signed the agreement with a Russian government representative in Geneva city on Wednesday, August 16, 2017, as the agreement established Failaq al Rahman’s and their areas’ inclusion in the agreement, where it was to come into effect at 21:00 of Friday, August 18, 2017.
The report also sheds light on northern suburbs of Homs and southern suburbs of Hama de-escalation agreement which was signed in Cairo on Monday, July 31, 2017 following a round of talks between armed opposition factions in the area and the Syrian regime represented by the Russian government a sponsoring party, as the agreement was to commence at 12:00 on Thursday, August 3, 2017. Most notably, the agreements provided for a full cessation of hostilities between the conflicting parties in the relevant areas -with the exclusion of the areas in which ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham are present- and for humanitarian aids to enter these areas and for detainees to be released as per the demands of each party as to which detainees are to be released. Moreover, the report stresses that the toll of civilians killed by Syrian regime forces, as well as its widespread violations, imply a lack of commitment to the most two recent signed agreements on the Syrian regime’s part.
The report stresses that breaches haven’t stopped, despite Ankara Ceasefire Agreement and the string of de-escalation agreements that followed, mainly by the Syrian regime, who is seemingly the party that would be most affected should the ceasefire go on, and in particular extrajudicial killing crimes and, more horrendously, deaths due to torture. This strongly asserts that there is a ceasefire of some sort on the table, but the crimes that the international community -particularly the sponsoring states- won’t see are still going on as nothing had changed.
The records an unprecedented drop in numbers of barrel bombs dropped by Syrian regime helicopters in August compared to what has been documented since it was first used in late-2012.
The report notes that a barrel bomb is a distinctively indiscriminate weapon with huge destructive impact. Therefore, the barrel bomb doesn’t only kill civilians but also terrorizes and displaces residents in light of the destruction it creates. Dropping barrel bombs from warplanes in this savage and primitive manner amount to a war crime. Every barrel bomb dropped is considered a war crime.
Furthermore, the report notes that barrel bombs were used notably for the first time on Monday 1 April 2012 against the residents of Salqin city. Also, the barrel bomb is a locally-made weapon which is used by Syrian regime forces due to the fact that it is costs notably less than missiles and it has a huge destructive impact. Barrel bombs are a distinctively indiscriminate weapon that even if it killed an armed man, this would be an accident as 99% of the victims killed by barrel bombs are civilians, and the percentage of women and children victims varies between 12% to 35% in some cases.
Vitaly Churkin, the former Russian representative to the United Nations, said that the Syrian regime has stopped using barrel bombs. However, the daily monitoring and documentation conducted by SNHR prove, beyond any doubt, otherwise as the Syrian regime continues to kill and destroy Syria by dropping hundreds of barrel bombs.
The report outlines the toll of barrel bombs since the start of 2017, which amounted to 4,568 barrel bombs. Also, the report records that 92 barre, bombs were dropped in August, most of which were dropped in Hama, followed by Damascus suburbs, and then Homs.
The report emphasizes that the Syrian government has, beyond any doubt, violated Security Council Resolution 2139, and used barrel bombs in a widespread and systematic manner and violated, through the crime of murder, Article 7 of the Rome Statute in a widespread and systematic manner as well, which constitutes crimes against humanity. Additionally, the Syrian government violated many rules of the international humanitarian law by perpetrating tens of crimes that amount to war crimes which manifested in the indiscriminate and random bombardment that was also disproportionate due to the use of excessive force.
The report calls on the Security Council to insure the serious implementation of its Resolutions. These Resolutions have become merely words and, thus, the Security Council has lost all of its credibility and purpose.
Also, the report demands that an arms embargo is imposed on the Syrian government, and all those who are supplying the Syrian government with funding and weapon should be prosecuted considering the risk that these weapons might be used to commit crimes and serious violations of human rights.