After the Security Council Fails to Protect Civilians, an International Coalition Is Essential Outside the Security Council to Protect Hospitals
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in its latest report released today that Syrian-Russian alliance forces have targeted 24 medical facilities in the fourth de-escalation zone within four weeks, and called for the formation of an international coalition outside the Security Council’s control to protect hospitals.
According to the 22-page report, the failure of the United Nations’ mechanisms to take any action to force the Syrian regime to stop bombing hospitals and other protected facilities, the inability of the Security Council to act due to the Russian veto, and the failure to create an international coalition responsible for protecting civilians and medical and civilian facilities, have all contributed to enabling the Syrian regime and its allies to continue with their barbaric strategy of bombing medical facilities.
The report reveals that Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance forces are the primary perpetrators of violations involving the bombing of medical facilities, mainly because of their use of air power, which has led to the partial or total destruction of multiple medical centers, field hospitals and, as well as large quantities of medical equipment, causing the closure of these health care facilities, temporarily or permanently.
The report explains that the Idlib de-escalation zone (consisting of Idlib governorate and parts of the governorates of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia), has witnessed repeated military escalations since the entry into force of the Sochi Agreement on September 17, 2018. These military campaigns have resulted in the deaths of at least 701 civilians, including 201 children and 131 women (adult female) at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces, and the displacement of nearly one million civilians, hundreds of thousands of whom have been displaced more than once.
The report notes that on April 26, 2019, the Idlib area witnessed the most violent campaign since the Sochi Agreement came into force, revealing that this campaign resulted up to May 24, 2019, in the deaths of at least 265 civilians, including 64 children, and 50 women (adult female), and the displacement of at least 195,000 people, adding that this escalation also included a rise in the frequency of attacks on vital civilian facilities, especially medical centers; this has forced the management of most of the medical centers to suspend work at these facilities, especially after the suspension of organizational funding by a large number of states and donors for facilities in the area controlled by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham which is classified as a terrorist party.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of SNHR, adds:
“The world cannot tolerate such monstrous barbarism and relentless assaults on centers providing medical services to the wounded or injured. This continuous targeting is no longer even simply an attack on the Syrian people and society alone, but is an assault on all the most basic tenets of humanity, which will encourage other criminals and tyrants to replicate this unspeakable savagery against humanity. There is an imperative need for immediate action by an international civilizational coalition outside the Security Council to end these barbaric and repeated crimes against humanity which violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law. ”
The report highlights the attacks by Syrian-Russian alliance forces against medical facilities in the Idlib area that occurred during the latest military campaign on the region from April 26 to May 24, 2019.
The record of attacks included in this report includes bombings targeting medical facilities with no military installations or equipment nearby, and other attacks that targeted medical facilities whose work had already been suspended for fear of being shelled and due to the displacement of the residents of the area, noting that many facilities have been subjected to more than one attack, with each attack documented as a separate violation.
The report includes seven first-hand accounts, as well as an analysis of video clips and pictures showing the locations of the attacks and the magnitude of the destruction caused to vital medical facilities following the attacks by Syrian-Russian alliance forces.
As the report explains, the Syrian regime, which has committed grave crimes and violations against Syrian civilians for eight years to date, has also consistently failed to respond to any of the demands of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, or to those of the High Commission for Human Rights, or even to Security Council resolutions. The Security Council, which was supposed to take collective measures and action under Article 41 and 42 of the Charter of the United Nations, also failed because of the immunity granted by Russia to the Syrian regime, with Russia routinely using its veto in the case of the Syrian regime, which not only failed to abide by the responsibility for the protection of civilians, but committed the most egregious violations against them, reaching the level of crimes against humanity, and extermination by torture within detention centers.
The report further states that the carnage that has continued to happen in Syria is represented not only by one massacre or one violation but by industrial-scale killings and torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, and besieging civilians. The report quotes a report issued by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in December 2001, which stated: “The Security Council should take into account in all its deliberations that, if it fails to discharge its responsibility to protect in conscience-shocking situations crying out for action, concerned states may not rule out other means to meet the gravity and urgency of that situation”
The report documents at least 39 attacks on medical facilities by Syrian-Russian alliance forces in the fourth de-escalation between September 17, 2018, and May 24, 2019, twenty-nine of which occurred during the recent military campaign. The Syrian regime was responsible for 15 of these, while 14 others were carried out by Russian forces. The latest military escalation on the fourth de-escalation zone resulted in the deaths of at least four medical personnel between April 26 and May 24, 2019, all of whom were killed at the hands of Syrian Regime forces.
According to the report, these incidents caused the damage to the 24 medical facilities, including six that had been included in the deconfliction mechanism stablished by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in September 2014 in an attempt to mitigate the risks of targeting humanitarian static locations, or humanitarian mission movements by providing the International Coalition forces, Russia, Turkey and the International Syria Support Group Chairs (Government of the United States and the Russian Federation) with their locations. As the report notes, this mechanism did little to protect medical facilities, and perhaps contributed to the provision of information to the Russian forces that used them to bomb the medical facilities later.
The report further warns that if Syrian-Russian alliance forces continue using this approach and targeting medical facilities, this will have a devastating impact on the lives of civilians in that region. The lack of medical care resulting from these attack is one of the main reasons why thousands of civilians flee their homes to live in makeshift camps that lack the most basic elements of life; this is in addition to the horrendous impact of losing a large number of medical facilities on the situation of the wounded and sufferers from chronic diseases, as well as on children and pregnant women. The report estimates the toll of injured as a result of the recent military operations at approximately 832 civilians.
The report stresses that the incidents detailed constitute a violation of Security Council resolutions number 2139, 2254 and 2286, noting that most of the attacks targeted unarmed civilian personnel, and that the aggressor forces violated the provisions of international human rights law, in addition to perpetrating these attacks a non-international armed conflict, amounting to a war crime.
The report explains that these attacks constitute a violation of customary international humanitarian law, as the missiles used were fired at facilities and vehicles used to provide medical services rather than being directed at serving a specific military objective, adding that there are very strong indications suggesting that the damage was exceptionally excessive compared to the anticipated military benefit.
The report calls on the Security Council to take further action following the introduction of resolutions 2139 and 2254, and bearing in mind the need to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court, and the need for all those involved in perpetrating crimes to be held accountable, including the Russian regime, after they have been conclusively proven to be involved in committing war crimes.
The report also recommends that the Security Council to stop treating the Syrian government as a legitimate official party after its perpetration of crimes against humanity in terms of relief provision, and stop providing it with the largest part of the financial and other assistance, which largely fails to reach the beneficiaries instead being distributed to loyalists of the Syrian government.
The report calls for action at the national and regional levels to form alliances to support the Syrian people by protecting them from daily killings, as well as increasing support for relief efforts. The report also calls for the invocation of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, as well as urging the implementation of the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly, adding that in the current situation the Security Council is still hindering the protection of civilians in Syria.
The report urges the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to immediately investigate the incidents detailed in this report, stressing that the Syrian Network for Human Rights is ready to cooperate and provide further evidence and details.
The report further urges the European Union and the United States of America to support the International Impartial Mechanism established by General Assembly resolution 71/248 of December 21, 2016, to open the courts of local states which have the principle of universal jurisdiction, and to prosecute war crimes committed in Syria.
The report stresses the need for the Russian regime to launch investigations into the incidents detailed in the report, to inform the Syrian community of their results, to hold those involved accountable, to compensate, rebuild and reequip all damaged centers and facilities, and compensate all families of the wounded and the victims killed by the current Russian regime, completely ceases the bombardment of hospitals, protected objects, and respects customary humanitarian law.