SNHR has released its latest annual report documenting violations against media workers by all parties to the conflict in Syria.
The report notes that all of the parties to the conflict have persecuted journalists and citizen journalists to varying degrees, committing crimes which qualify as war crimes against them. The Syrian regime is the party responsible for perpetrating the vast majority of these crimes since March 2011, however, with regime forces bearing responsibility for at least 83 percent of the crimes documented in this category. The regime has the waged a systematic war on media work, committing hundreds of violations against journalists and citizen journalists, including killing, arrest, and torture in an attempt to conceal the human rights violations to which it subjects the Syrian people and to hide the magnitude of its crimes against Syrian citizens.
According to the report, ISIS, factions of the armed opposition and Self-Management forces also resorted to suppression of dissenting views as policy in areas under their control, as seen by the widespread arrests they carried out.
The report stresses that a journalist is a civilian individual according to international humanitarian law regardless of his or her nationality. Any attack deliberately directed against a journalist is considered a war crime. However, when media workers voluntarily approach action-heavy zones, they are responsible for their own actions, in which case targeting them would be seen as inflicting collateral damage. Also, they would lose the right to protection if they were involved in hostilities.
According to the report’s methodology, a citizen journalist is any individual who plays a significant role in reporting and publishing news. He is not necessarily impartial as a journalist should be. In case a citizen journalist takes up arms and is directly engaged in hostilities, he is no longer classified as a citizen journalist although if he renounces violence and retires completely from military action, it is possible that he would be again be reclassified as a citizen journalist.
This report draws, firstly, upon the daily, ongoing documentation and monitoring efforts of the SNHR team, and on accounts from survivors, eyewitnesses, and local media workers. The report contains no accounts that were not collected through speaking directly with eyewitnesses, and none cited from any open sources. The report also involved analysis of a large number of videos and photos that were either posted online or submitted by local activists.
According to the report, December saw arrests of media worker by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, Syrian Regime forces and Kurdish self-Management forces, with most of these individuals subsequently released.
Meanwhile, the first third of 2018 witnessed an increase in the death toll among media workers, compared with the latter two-thirds of the year, following the military escalation by Syrian-Russian forces on the three de-escalation zones (certain areas of northern Homs governorate, parts of Daraa and Quneitra governorates, and the Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Suburbs governorate) until these forces seized control of these areas and forcibly displaced their residents. As the report states, the Syrian Regime forces were responsible for the majority of fatalities, killing 55 percent of the media workers documented as being killed during this period, with 39 percent of this total died as a result of torture in the regime’s detention centers.
The report further states that the second half of the year saw an unprecedented rise in the number of media workers arrested, mostly in the north of Syria, by both factions of the Armed Opposition and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, in a continuing effort to silence independent media workers, which has largely become standard policy.
Among parties to the conflict in terms of arrests of media workers, the factions of the Armed Opposition led the rest of the parties, being responsible for 21 percent of the total recorded, followed by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham with 19 percent.
The report states that 24 media workers were documented as being killed in 2018, including five who died due to torture at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, while the Russian forces killed another two, and Extremist Islamist groups killed four. One media worker was killed at the hands of ISIS, and three others were killed at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham. According to the report, one media worker was killed at the hands of factions of the Armed Opposition and one at the hands of Self-Management forces, while three were killed by other parties.
The report indicates that 28 media workers were documented as injured in the past year, 12 of them at the hands of the Syrian Regime forces and eight at the hands of Russian forces, with one being injured at the hands of the Kurdish Self-Management forces, one at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, and six more by other parties.
The report also documents three cases of media workers being arrested at the hands of Syrian Regime forces in 2018, one of whom was released, and one case of release and nine cases of arrest at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, five of whom were released. Meanwhile, the report records 10 cases of arrest of media workers, including one woman, by factions of the Armed Opposition, four of whom were released, as well as documenting four other cases of arrest, three of whom were released by the Kurdish Self-Management forces, and five kidnappings by other parties, of whom three were set free.
The report also documents the most notable violations against media workers in December, including two cases of arrest at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, one of whom was released. It also documents three cases of arrest at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, all of whom were released, and one case of arrest at the hands of the Kurdish Self-Management forces, who was released. Lastly, the report records one incident of an attack on a media office at the hands of Syrian Regime forces.
The report calls on the OHCHR to condemn the targeting of media workers in Syria and to shed light on their sacrifice and suffering. In addition, the report calls on the COI and the IIIM to launch investigations into the targeting of media workers specifically, considering their vital integral role in recording incidents in Syria. The report emphasizes that SNHR is willing to cooperate in these efforts and to provide more evidence and data.
Additionally, the report calls on the Security Council to combat the current policies of impunity by referring the crisis in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Moreover, the report calls on Arab and international media institutions to support their colleagues in the field of media by publishing periodic reports that shed light on their daily suffering and commemorate their sacrifices, as well as contacting their families to offer condolences.
Finally, the report stresses that all parties must respect international humanitarian law in areas under their control with respect to the protection of civilians and especially media workers and their equipment.