Including 57 at the Hands of the Syrian-Russian Alliance
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.
Also, the report briefs that the American and Russian presidents, following an extensive round of talks between Russia, USA, and Jordan that commenced in May 2017 in Amman, Jordan’s capital, announced that a ceasefire agreement has been reached in southwestern Syria – Daraa, Quneitra, and Suwayda governorates on the sidelines of the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg. 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.
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. This helps, the report notes, 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. The report notes that the toll of victims killed by Syrian regime forces and their widespread violations reflect the lack of commitment to the two most recent signed agreements on the Syrian regime’s part.
The report notes that the included areas have seen a relatively good and significant drop in the rates of killing since the agreements’ commencement in relation to the past months since March 2011. Nonetheless, breaches didn’t stop, 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, as rates of deaths due to torture didn’t see any changes from the month prior to the commencement of the agreement. This strongly asserts that there is a ceasefire of some sort on the table, but the crimes that the international community -especially the guarantors- won’t see are still going on as nothing had changed.
The report adds that with the end of the sixth round of talks in the Kazakhstani capital, Astana, which were held over the course of two days (September 14-15, 2017), a de-escalation zone was established in Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas, as military forces were to be deployed (Russian, Turkish, and Iranian) to monitor the agreement, with the passage of humanitarian aids. However, on September 19, Syrian-Russian alliance started a heavy offensive against Idlib governorate in response to Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s “Ya Ebadallah Uthbotou” battle. Supported by some opposition faction (The Islamic Turkistani Party, Jaish al Izza, and Jaish al Nukhba), Hay’at Tahrir al Sham started this battle in northeastern Hama governorate. Subsequently, Syrian-Russian alliance expanded the offensive to include the suburbs of Aleppo and Hama governorates and Eastern Ghouta in Damascus suburbs.
Furthermore, the report notes that armed opposition factions signed an agreement with a Russian Ministry of Defense representative that stated that southern Damascus city would be added to the de-escalation zones, as the agreement was to come into force at 12:00 of October 12, 2017. The agreement provided for a ceasefire in the area, and ensured that the area residents would not be displaced, in addition to the passage of humanitarian aids to the area.
In addition, the report sheds light on Astana talks, as Ankara Agreement guarantor states (Russia, Turkey, and Iran) called on, in their final statement at the conclusion of round 7 of Astana talks that were held on the 30th and 31st of October 2017, the parties to the conflict in Syria to take steps towards building trust, including releasing detainees and forcibly-disappeared persons, delivering dead bodies, and working on delivering humanitarian aids to besieged areas.
The report stresses that 94% of all documented attacks on vital civilian facilities in October were by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces who topped all parties for the second month in a row in this respect -even though attacks by Russian forces have dropped by half compared to last September. Deir Ez-Zour governorate saw most of the Syrian-Russian alliance’s attacks with a percentage of 46% of all attacks.
The report documents 747 incidents of attack on vital civilian facilities between the start of 2017 and November of the same year. Moreover, the report records 61 incidents of attack in October, including 36 by Syrian regime forces and 21 by Russian forces, while the remaining attacks were distributed as follows: two by ISIS and tow by other parties.
The report breaks down the vital civilian facilities that were attacked in the month of October: 19 infrastructures, 13 vital educational facilities, 19 places of worship, four communal facilities, three vital medical facilities, three refugee camps.
This report by SNHR only shed light on the most notable incidents, as the report notes that the details of all incidents are kept in a database for the network, adding that the documented attacks were only the minimum of the actual magnitude of crimes in light of the many practical difficulties during the documentation process.
The report affirms that investigations conducted by SNHR show that there were no military centers before or during these attacks. Syrian regime forces and the other perpetrators of these crimes must justify their actions before the United Nations and the Security Council.
The type and number of evidences vary from one case to another. In light of the challenges we mentioned above, many of the incidents’ legal description change based on new evidences or clues that surface after we had released the report. We add these evidences and clues to our data archive. On the other hand, many incidents don’t constitute a violation to the international humanitarian law, but it involved collateral damages, so we record and archive these incidents to know what happened historically and to preserve it as a national record. However, they don’t necessarily qualify as crimes.
According to the report, the international humanitarian law considers indiscriminate, deliberate, or disproportionate attacks as unlawful attacks. Syrian regime forces’ attacks against schools, hospitals, churches, and bakeries is an utter disregard for the most basic standards of the international humanitarian law and the Security Council Resolution.
The report also notes that Russian forces, ISIS, and other parties have attacked some of these facilities. The indiscriminate random bombardment is a violation of the international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime.
The report calls on the Security Council to bind all parties, especially Syrian regime forces considering that it is the main perpetrator of most of these violations, to implement Resolution 2139 and, at least, condemn the targeting of vital civilian centers that are indispensable for the lives of civilians.
The report calls on the Russian guarantor to stop the Syrian regime from dooming all de-escalation agreements, and start making progress in the detainees issue by revealing the fates of 76,000 forcibly-disappeared persons.
Finally, the report calls on the states that support the armed opposition to cease their support for the factions that didn’t respect the international humanitarian law.