Including 18 in December
SNHR has published its monthly report documenting the massacres perpetrated by the parties to the conflict.
The report notes that a comprehensive ceasefire was announced from the Turkish capital Ankara under a Russian-Turkish sponsorship on December 30, 2016. The signing parties, the Syrian regime on one side and armed opposition factions on the other side, agreed to cease all armed attacks in the majority of the Syrian region. The military areas controlled by ISIS (self-proclaimed the Islamic State) were excluded from the agreement.
The report adds that Ankara Ceasefire Agreement was followed by seven rounds of talks that were held in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, between Russian, Turkish, and Iranian representatives as the states who sponsored Ankara Ceasefire Agreement. These rounds -the most recent of which was on October 30-31, 2017- discussed mostly, in parallel with a number of local agreements, ways to further establish de-escalation zones in Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas (parts of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia governorates), northern Homs governorate, Eastern Ghouta, and parts of Daraa and Quneitra governorates in south Syria. Additionally, the talks addressed ways to deliver humanitarian aids and enable IDPs to return to those areas.
Since these agreements went into effect, the included areas saw a relatively good and noticeable drop in killing rates in relation to the past months since March 2011.
The report notes that these agreements reflected on the civilians’ lives in most of the included areas, as patients were able to go to hospitals and medical points, and many children went back to school after their families prevented them out of fear for their lives in light of the repeated bombing that targeted schools, as well as hospitals. Markets became more active, and many infrastructure services were restored thanks to a number of maintenance campaigns. 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. 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 stresses that Syrian-Russian alliance have initiated a vicious offensive against Eastern Ghouta on the 14th of last November despite a de-escalation agreement that was reached in Eastern Ghouta between Jaish al Islam, an armed opposition faction, and Russian forces under an Egyptian sponsorship on Saturday, July 22, 2017, and was followed by a similar agreement with Failaq al Rahman faction that established the faction’s inclusion in the de-escalation zone in Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
The reports sheds light on the high documentation standards incorporated in the report, which rely on direct accounts from survivors or victims’ families and local media activists. In addition, we have analyzed the pictures and videos and some medical records we received. We have all the pictures and videos that are mentioned in this report in a secret online database, and backup copes on hard drives. Certainly, we can’t claim that we have documented all cases in light of the ban and pursuit by Syrian regime forces and other armed groups.
As a result of these challenges, the type and number of evidence 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, we don’t describe it as massacres.
The report records no less than 374 massacres perpetrated by the parties to the conflict in Syria in 2017, including 129 massacres by Syrian regime forces while Russian forces were responsible for 83 massacres. In addition, 113 massacres were perpetrated by international coalition forces, 19 by ISIS, and 26 by other parties.
According to the victim documentation team at SNHR, 4,007 civilians were killed in those massacres, including 1,431 children and 752 women (adult female). This means that 55% of all victims were women and children, which is a considerably high percentage and an indication that civilians were targeted in most of these massacres. Further, the report breaks out the death toll of 2017’s massacres where 1,174 civilians, the report records, were killed by Syrian regime forces, including 420 children and 220 women, while 991 civilians, including 356 children and 207 women, were killed by Russian forces. Also, 209 civilians, including 71 children and 28 women, were killed by ISIS whereas 33 civilians, including 12 children and seven women, were killed in the massacres by Self-Management forces. Lastly, 1,201 civilians, including 479 children and 239 women, were killed by international coalition forces.
The report notes that Deir Ez-Zour saw the most massacre in 2017 with 120 massacres, followed by Raqqa governorate with 105 while Idlib governorate recorded 50 massacres and then Damascus suburbs with 34 massacres.
Moreover, the report outlines the toll of massacres in December 2017 as 18 massacres were documented. The report describes an incident as a massacre if it involves the killing of five peaceful individuals at once. Based on this report, Syrian regime forces perpetrated nine massacres in December while Russian forces committed four massacres, international coalition forces committed four massacres, and, lastly, other parties were responsible for one massacre.
According to the report, Syrian regime forces perpetrated four massacres in Damascus suburbs, three in Idlib, and two in Deir Ez-Zour while Russian forces were responsible for three massacres in Idlib and one massacre Deir Ez-Zour. International coalition forces, on the other hand, committed three massacres in Deir Ez-Zour and one in Raqqa. Lastly, other parties were responsible for one massacre in Homs.
According to the victim documentation team at SNHR, 183 civilians were killed in those massacres, including 72 children and 39 women (adult female). This means that 61% of all victims were women and children, which is a considerably high percentage and an indication that civilians were targeted in most of these massacres.
The report breaks down the victim toll of December’s massacres, where Syrian regime forces killed 65 civilians, including 20 children and four women while Russian forces killed 41 civilians, including 16 children and 14 women. In the massacres they perpetrated in December, international coalition forces killed 65 civilians, including 36 children and 13 women, while 12 civilians, including eight women, were killed in the massacre by other parties.
The report stresses that the bombing incidents, whether it was deliberate or indiscriminate, targeted armless civilians, thus, The Syrian-Russian alliance forces have violated the rules of the international human rights law which guarantee the right to life. Furthermore, these violations were perpetrated during a non-international armed conflict which amount to war crimes as all elements of a war crime have been fulfilled. In addition, international coalition forces, Self-Management forces, ISIS and other parties have committed massacres that constitute war crimes according to the report. However, these crimes are not crimes against humanity as with the case of Syrian regime forces and their pro-regime forces that are committing massacres in a widespread and systematic manner.
Moreover, these attacks, especially bombing, have resulted in collateral damages that involved casualties, injuries, and damages to civil facilities. There are strong indicators that prove that the damage was deeply severe compared to the estimated military benefit. In all of the cases, we couldn’t confirm that there were any military targets before or during these attacks.
Additionally, the magnitude of the massacres, its frequent pattern, the exaggerated use of strength, its military nature, the indiscriminate manner of the bombing, and the coordinated approach of these attacks must be based on high orders, and a state policy.
The report calls for referring the case in Syria to the International Criminal Court and stop the disrupting of the decisions that must be adopted by the Security Council against the Syrian government. This disruption is a wrong message to all dictatorships around the world and supports the culture of crime. Also, immediate sanctions must be imposed on all individuals involved in widespread human rights violations.
Moreover, the report calls for binding the Syrian government to allow all relief and human rights organizations to enter Syria as well as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and journalists and let them work without any obstructions.
The report emphasizes that all militias that are fighting with the Syrian government and have committed widespread massacres such as Iranian militias, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, other Shiite brigades, National Defense Army, and “Shabiha”, must be listed on the international list of terrorist organizations.
The report calls on the Russian guarantors 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 for the implementation of “Responsibility to Protect” norm which was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, in Syria as it is direly needed there.