The SNHR, in its report released today entitled, ” The Most Notable Violations of the Russo-Turkish Sochi Agreement in the Fourth and Final De-escalation Zone”, calls on the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution to consolidate the cease-fire in Idlib, including punitive measures for all violators of the cease-fire.
According to the 19-page report, Russia broke the agreement on earlier de-escalation zones, and took control, in alliance with Iranian and Syrian forces, of the Eastern Ghouta, and the region of southern Syria and Homs northern suburbs. Now, only the fourth and final de-escalation zone is left (consisting of Idlib governorate and parts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia governorates). Meanwhile the Syrian Regime and Iranian militias have continued with their military build-up and gathered in preparation to fully end the agreement on a de-escalation zone.
The report sheds light upon the fourth and final de-escalation zone, and records the most notable violations since the de-escalation agreement went into force between May, 2017, and December 23, 2018, focusing particularly on the Russian-Syrian military preparation and escalation prior to the Sochi agreement, which was held on May 17, 2018, in the Russian city of Sochi, and its devastating impact in the massive displacement of residents. The report contains nine accounts from eyewitnesses, survivors and victims’ relatives.
According to the report, the Idlib region was already a haven for hundreds of thousands of Syrian citizens who had been displaced from their homes in areas across the country, with tens of thousands from Homs and Hama governorates displaced there earlier, along with thousands more from Damascus Suburbs governorate. When the Russian forces attacked those de-escalation zones, and helped enforce humiliating settlements with the residents, more waves of tens of thousands of displaced people fled to this fourth de-escalation zone. Accordingly, the report estimates that the fourth and final de-escalation zone now contains approximately five million Syrian citizens, with nearly three million of this number being residents while the other two million are displaced people from various other Syrian governorates. Most of these IDPs refuse to return to areas controlled by the Syrian Regime due to well-justified fear of arrests, torture and enforced disappearances, or fear of their children being forcibly conscripted into the ranks of the fighters alongside the Syrian Regime and its local militias.
The report notes that a large number of those residents are subsisting on aid, in a wider context of widespread poverty and unemployment; this already intolerable suffering is further exacerbated by the fact that a large number of aid organizations have ceased to work following a break in or cessation of funding; this has left the fate of tens of thousands of families vulnerable to extortion, and to exploitation under the control of extremist organizations.
The report contains and reviews a table of those areas whose residents the Syrian – Russian – Iranian alliance’s forces have forcibly displaced towards northern Syria, who were subjected to forced displacement agreements. In addition, the report estimates the number of the most recently displaced at almost 217,000 Syrian citizens.
The report states that the fourth de-escalation zone has seen a number of attacks since the de-escalation zone agreement went into force, with the last one being the military campaign which started at the beginning of last August.
According to the report, the military operations against the fourth de-escalation zone by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces between August 10, 2018, and the Sochi Agreement’s entry into force on September 17, 2018, resulted in the deaths of 110 civilians, including 35 children and 14 women (adult female), and caused two massacres, in addition to 16 incidents of assault against vital civilian facilities, including five medical facilities. Moreover, the Syrian Regime air force dropped no fewer than 155 explosive barrels. These operations displaced no fewer than 48,000 people.
The report also noted that Idlib area saw a large number of violations at the hands of the Syrian-Russian alliance forces, between May 6, 2017, the date of the de-escalation agreement entering into force, and May 17, 2018, in which no fewer than 1856 civilians were killed, including 476 children and 313 women, most of whom were killed in Idlib governorate, in addition to 53 massacres committed by those forces, and 346 incidents of assault against vital civilian centers, including 77 schools, and 57 attacks against medical facilities. Moreover, the Syrian Regime air force dropped no fewer than 1167 explosive barrels.
The report adds that, from a humanitarian viewpoint, the agreement ultimately succeeded, at least during this phase, in halting flights by military aircraft, and thus stopping aerial bombardment and the killing of Syrian citizens in airstrikes. However, it did not succeed in stopping the artillery bombardment. Syrian Regime forces have continued almost daily to bomb villages and towns adjacent to the line of contact. The report also documents 10 attempts by the Syrian regime’s forces to break into the area under the control of factions from the Armed Opposition.
The report documents no fewer than 369 violations of the agreement by Syrian Regime forces, most of which were in the demilitarized zone, between the signing of the Sochi agreement on May 17, 2018, and December 23, 2018, including 145 violations in Idlib governorate, 22 violations in Aleppo governorate and 202 violations in Hama governorate. These violations resulted in the death of 45 civilians, including 22 children and six women.
In addition, the report states that Islamist factions violated the Sochi Agreement by shelling areas under the control of the Syrian Regime. These factions also exploited the cessation of fighting to extend their control over additional areas at the expense of factions from the Armed Opposition.
The report stresses that the Syrian-Russian alliance forces violated the agreement on the de-escalation zone, repeatedly violating the Sochi Agreement by carrying out artillery bombardment on a number of villages and towns in the fourth de-escalation zone, most of which were in the demilitarized zone, and by attacking factions from the Armed Opposition and killing a number of their members. The Syrian Regime also practiced the crime of enforced displacement which constitutes a crime against humanity under Article VII of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, without implementing any measures to provide shelter, health care or food to displaced civilians.
The report calls on the Security Council to provide genuine support for serious implementation of the peace process in Syria and to bring about a just political transition that guarantees security and stability, to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court, and to ensure that all those involved, including the Russian regime, must be held accountable for having been implicated in committing war crimes, to pass a resolution concerning the some 7 million internally displaced persons in Syria that addresses forced displacement, to ensure that this does not become a long-term crisis, and to put pressure on the Syrian regime to end displacements, and enact laws aimed at preventing the plunder of displaced persons’ properties and possessions.
The report urges the International Community to take action at the national and regional levels to form alliances to support the Syrian people that can protect them from the daily killings and siege and increase support for relief efforts. Additionally, it urges that the principle of universal jurisdiction should be applied in local courts regarding these crimes in order to conduct fair trials for all those involved in perpetrating them.
The report calls for the implementation of the “Responsibility to Protect” principle following the exhaustion of previous efforts through all political channels after the Arab League’s plan, then Mr. Kofi Annan’s plan proved fruitless, Therefore, the steps recommended under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations should be adopted and the norm of the “Responsibility to Protect”, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly, should be implemented, to fulfil justice and achieve accountability in Syria through the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
The report recommends the OHCHR to submit a report to the Human Rights Council and other organs of the United Nations concerning the violations committed by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces.
Finally, the report calls on the Russian forces to stop committing all types of war crimes in Syria, and to pledge to reconstruct what was destroyed by the Russian war machine and compensate victims financially and morally and apologize publicly. In addition, it stresses the importance of Russia’s committing itself to the outcome of the Sochi Summit and to not repeating the scenario of violations we have seen in the agreements of de-escalation zone, to stop supporting the war crimes and crimes against humanity which the Syrian regime has been committing, to contribute to the assistance of displaced persons who were displaced by the Russian war machine and to protecting the residents of those areas who remained from the arrests, persecution, kidnappings and enforced disappearances being perpetrated by the Syrian Regime and the Iranian militias.