1,109 Humanitarian Workers Have Been Killed in Eight Years, and 3,984 Others Are Still Detained
In its latest report released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reveals that at least 1,109 humanitarian workers have lost their lives in Syria in the past eight years, and at least 3,984 are still detained or forcibly disappeared. The report reviews the most notable violations against humanitarian field since the start of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria in March 2011.
The 25-page report notes that the internal armed conflict in Syria is characterized by unprecedented challenges to humanitarian organizations and to their personnel. This is considered one of the worst conflicts in the world, with the magnitude of these violations coming as a shock to a large number of workers in the humanitarian, human rights and media fields.
The report points out that international humanitarian law is clear in granting powers to provide relief work of a humanitarian nature in both domestic or international armed conflicts; these powers are clearly stated in Protocol 2, Article 18-2, Geneva Convention 4, Articles 17, 23 and 59, Protocol 1, Article 70, and Rule 55 of customary humanitarian law.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, the Chairman of the SNHR, adds “It may be possible to imagine preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid, which includes a fundamental violation of human rights, but it is very difficult to imagine a regime that repeatedly bombs the humanitarian organizations, and persecutes and kills their personnel. The brutality has reached a frightening level. The task of saving and rescuing civilians has become an act that itself causes death, which is the main objective of the Syrian regime in targeting the humanitarian organizations; to achieve the greatest possible suffering for civilians by preventing anyone from saving them. ”
This report reviews the records of the most notable violations perpetrated against humanitarian workers and related facilities from March 2011 to March 2019. According to the rigorous methodology of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, humanitarian workers, include those working in the medical field, such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, phlebotomists and other experts in various medical specialties, as well as administrative staff, and those working in the operation and transport of medical supplies, Civil Defense personnel and, finally, humanitarian workers. The term vital humanitarian centers is here a reference to medical centers, Civil Defense centers, related facilities and relief convoys.
The report outlines the most notable challenges facing the humanitarian field in Syria during the last eight years, noting that the targeting of humanitarian workers and their equipment has been a tactic adopted by the Syrian regime since the early days of the popular uprising in March 2011, with the regime persecuting medical personnel, hospitals and doctors, who provide aid to those injured in the demonstrations and targeting anyone providing medical supplies or medicines for treatment. According to the report, this monstrous strategy was adopted because the Syrian regime recognized the vital role of humanitarian workers in alleviating the suffering of civilians.
The report notes that Syrian Regime forces have besieged and stormed many hospitals, clinics and field hospitals, which provided assistance and medical treatment to those wounded in demonstrations, abducting many of the injured from inside these hospitals and arresting medical staff. The report also outlines the major challenges faced by relief organizations operating in areas outside the control of the Syrian regime, such as air strikes by the Syrian regime and its allies, and targeting the headquarters of humanitarian organizations and their personnel working in the field.
The report further notes that the Syrian regime’s control of most of the relief supplies sent by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is another massive challenge facing the fully legitimate and credible national human rights organizations. It further notes that the Damascus office of the UNOHCR is run by family members of high-ranking officials in the Syrian regime, and that the dependence of the UN office in Syria on the Syrian Red Crescent is in itself a legitimate cause for doubting the integrity and trustworthiness of the distribution of relief supplies, since the Syrian Red Crescent is controlled almost completely by regime security departments; as the report notes, most of the humanitarian relief supplies provided to the UN in Syria have been distributed according to the Syrian regime’s wishes, and therefore go to regime areas which are not the worst affected and have no need of these supplies, with coordination with the highly credible national humanitarian organizations minimized in comparison to the coordination with the Syrian Red Crescent.
In addition to the Syrian, Iranian and Russian regimes, other parties have engaged in practices that posed challenges of a different kind to the humanitarian organizations and their workers in Syria. Elements affiliated with ISIS stormed field hospitals, dispensaries, Red Crescent centers, and relief warehouses, injuring or abducting doctors and paramedics. In addition, ISIS prevented some doctors from practicing their specialty according to their discriminatory laws, and killed humanitarian workers on multiple charges, including their allegiance to the Syrian regime, supposed cooperation with it, or violating the policies of the extremist organization. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham has also restricted humanitarian work, particularly relief work, in the areas under its control in the north.
According to the report, 1,109 humanitarian workers have been killed by the main parties in the conflict in Syria from March 2011 to March 2019. Of these victims, 872 were killed at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, 91 were killed at the hands of Russian forces, while ISIS killed 47, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham killed five personnel working in the humanitarian field, and factions of the Armed Opposition killed 30. The report further reveals that nine humanitarian personnel were killed at the hands of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, while 13 others were killed at the hands of International Coalition forces, and 42 were killed at the hands of other parties.
According to the report, at least 3,984 humanitarian workers are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the main parties in Syria from March 2011 to March 2019. Of these detainees, 3,847 are still detained in Syrian regime detention centers, 78 in ISIS prisons, and nine in prisons of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, while 32 personnel working in the humanitarian field are in prisons of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and at least 18 others are in prisons of factions of the Armed Opposition, according to the report.
The report documents at least 1,463 attacks on vital humanitarian facilities at the hands of the main parties in Syria from March 2011 until March 2019. The Syrian regime is responsible for 936 of these attacks, while Russian forces carried out 351 others, with 27 carries out by ISIS, 22 by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham. Meanwhile, factions of the Armed Opposition carried out 24 attacks, while the report records four attacks at the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces, 16 at the hands of International Coalition Forces, and 83 at the hands of other parties.
The report stresses that deliberate attacks against medical facilities, medical personnel, clearly identified individuals and facilities marked by emblems protected by the Geneva Convention, and those working in the humanitarian field or with peacekeeping groups, are war crimes, and it is part of the International Criminal Court’s duties to hold the perpetrators accountable, according to Article 8 of the court’s charter, as well as constituting a breach of the rules 31, 32, 45, 55, 56 of the International Customary Humanitarian Law.
The report notes that Incidents included in this report are unquestionably examples of breaches of UN Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2254 calling for the end of arbitrary attacks, and are a breach of UN Security Council resolution 2286, with the report further calling for an end to violations and transgressions committed in armed conflicts against workers in the medical field as well as in humanitarian relief, who are specifically performing medical tasks. The report also strongly condemns attacks on these organizations’ transportation vehicles as well as their equipment, hospitals, and other medical facilities, adding that bombings have accidentally caused losses of civilian lives, injuries, and severe damage to civilian facilities, and there are strong indications which lead us to believe the damage was disproportionately extreme compared to any military objectives for the attacks.
The report calls on the Security Council to reevaluate the level of risk of violations of human rights and its threat levels to international and regional peace and security, and to revert to Article Seven to protect humanitarian workers and facilities in Syria, to no longer classify the Syrian government as a legitimate official party in regard to any relief efforts, given its responsibility for multiple crimes against humanity, and to ensure that it is no longer supplied with large amounts of financial or any other relief, which mostly fails to reach those who desperately need and deserve this aid.
The report recommends that all the parties to the conflict, especially the Syrian-Russian alliance, should immediately stop bombing hospitals and objects covered by care and civilian areas, and should respect customary humanitarian law, and to ensure the protection of vital centers involved in humanitarian operations and of the personnel working in them.
The report urges humanitarian organizations operating in Syria not to distinguish assistance from protection, and stresses that personnel in this field must report all violations they face while carrying out their work, and must issue strong warnings, condemnations and denunciations in the event in case such violations are repeated.