Russia Denies Committing the Massacre of Ma’aret al Numan City in Idlib and Will Continue to Do So as Long as the International Community Is Silent
In its latest report, released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states that Syrian-Russian alliance forces have committed 33 massacres in the fourth de-escalation zone within three months, noting the responsibility of Russian forces for the recent massacre in Ma’aret al Numan, the largest massacre since the start of the recent military escalation on the region.
The 25-page report reveals that the Syrian-Russian alliance forces has committed the most egregious violations in the fourth de-escalation zone since April 26, 2019, including extrajudicial killings, indiscriminate and deliberate bombardment, enforced displacement, and bombing of residential buildings and vital facilities, including hospitals and schools, up to the use of chemical weapons. These atrocities continue to take place
The report documents at least 781 civilians, including 208 children, and 140 women (adult females) were killed in the fourth de-escalation zone between April 26, and July 27, 2019, at the hands of Syrian-Russian Alliance forces, with Syrian Regime forces killing 625 civilians, including 170 children and 115 women, and Russian forces killing 156 civilians, including 38 children and 25 women.
The report also documents 33 massacres that took place in the fourth de-escalation zone in the same period, 26 of which at the hands of Syrian Regime forces and seven at the hands of Russian forces, adding that these massacres killed 271 civilians, including 85 children and 58 women (adult female), and further noting that Syrian Regime forces killed 188 of these civilians, including 63 children and 44 women, while Russian forces killed the other 83 civilians, including 22 children and 14 women.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, adds:
” The massacres reflect incidents in which large numbers of civilians are killed at one time, five or more civilians. This usually indicates the extent of disregard to civilian lives by the attacking party, or indicates a strong desire to kill them and get rid of as many of them as possible. It seems to us through our work of monitoring the daily incidents and the pattern of brutal attacks carried out by these barbaric forces that this is precisely what the political leadership of the Russian and Syrian forces want. ”
This report catalogues the record of the most notable massacres committed by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces in the fourth and final de-escalation zone (consisting of Idlib governorate and parts of the governorates of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia) from April 26, 2019, to July 27, 2019, and outlines the details of the largest of these massacres, highlighting in particular the massacre committed by the Russian forces in Ma’aret al Numan city in the southern suburbs of Idlib on July 22.
As the report states, for eight years, the Syrian regime has committed grave crimes and violations against Syrian civilians. It 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 within detention centers through torture.
Furthermore, according to the report, the conscience-shocking situations which the UN is required to take action to prevent are exactly what have continued to happen in Syria, not only in the form of one massacre or one violation but in industrial-scale, continuous killings and torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, and besieging civilians. In this context, the report cites a report issued in December 2001 by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which stressed that: “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 includes the details of the massacre of Ma’aret al Numan city, which was committed by Russian forces on July 22, 2019, in which, as the report reveals, 39 civilians were killed, including four children, seven women, and one Civil Defense personnel member. The report notes that the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation issued a statement denying that its warplanes had carried out any military operation in that area, accusing the Civil Defense of making false statements. In this regard, the report notes that this was not the first time that the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation had denied carrying out certain attacks for which its responsibility has been confirmed, with the SNHR able to definitively prove the involvement of the Russian forces in seven of the eight large massacres for which Russia had denied responsibility since the beginning of the Russian military intervention in Syria.
The report adds that the sites shown in the videos published by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation on July 26 and 27 claiming to prove that the market that had been attacked had not been hit by any attacks, actually showed the city’s al Hal market rather than the popular market where the massacre took place.
The report stresses that Syrian and Russian forces have violated several rules of international humanitarian law, primarily through their failure to discriminate between civilians and combatants, between civilian and military targets, bombing hospitals, schools, centers and civilian neighborhoods, with these violations amount to war crimes.
The report also emphasizes that launching a deliberate attack on medical personnel in the context of a non-international armed conflict is a war crime punishable by international humanitarian law and international criminal law (Articles 8 (2) (b), 24, 8 (2) (e) (2) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court).
The report further notes that displacement or forced displacement is another war crime in non-international armed conflicts when committed as part of a deliberate or widespread attack against the civilian population (Articles 8 (2) (b) (7) and 8 (2) (e) (8) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court) and may also be considered crimes against humanity (Articles 7 (1) (d) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court).
The report also notes that Syrian-Russian alliance forces have violated the de-escalation zone agreement in all regions, including the Idlib region, and violated the Sochi Agreement that came into force in September 2018.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to stabilize the ceasefire in Idlib and to include punitive measures for all violators of the cease-fire, to genuinely support the serious implementation of the peace process in Syria and to assist in achieving a just political transition that guarantees security and stability, to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court, to ensure that all those involved in these crimes are held accountable, to pass a resolution concerning enforced displacement, to ensure that this does not become a long-term crisis, to put pressure on the Syrian regime to end displacements, and to enact laws aimed at preventing the plunder of displaced persons’ properties and possessions.
The report urges the International Community to take action at both national and regional levels to form alliances to support the Syrian people in a way that can protect them from the daily killings, to lift the sieges and to increase support for relief efforts. Additionally, it urges that the principle of universal jurisdiction should be applied in local courts regarding these crimes.
The report calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly, and to fulfil justice and achieve accountability in Syria through the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
The report recommends that the OHCHR should 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.
The report calls on the UN Secretary General to clearly identify the perpetrators of violations, explaining that doing so will contribute to condemning their actions, exposing their practices and sending a message of solidarity to the affected community, while failing to clearly identify the perpetrators of these apparent violations encourages these and other perpetrators to commit more violations and to repeat them.
The report further calls on the countries that support the parties to the conflict in Syria, especially Russia, to put pressure on their allies on the ground to ensure the neutrality of the Idlib area of combat operations, and to protect the lives of at least three million people living there.
The report recommends that UN General Assembly should hold the ruling Syrian regime responsible for the displacement of one-third of the Syrian people, including legal and material responsibility, and must ensure that victims receive full compensation for the heavy losses they have suffered, including the return of looted properties to their owners.
The report stresses that the UN Envoy to Syria must condemn the perpetrators of the crimes and massacres and the main culprits in the collapse of agreements on de-escalation zones, and thus declare the collapse and the end of the political process in full, as well as holding the Syrian-Russian alliance to account for its actions, and to disclose to the Syrian people Russia’s pursuit of full control of Syrian territory by force, and its public desire to rehabilitate the current regime, which means the creation of a political solution which satisfies only its own interests.
The report calls on the donor countries and the UNOCHR to ensure basic living conditions, to pay attention to the needs of and help provide care for thousands of displaced Syrians who are displaced in the north-western Idlib suburbs.
Finally, the report calls on the Russian forces to stop committing all types of war crimes in Syria, to commit to the outcome of the Sochi Summit and not repeat 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, with the current support being considered as direct involvement in these crimes, to contribute to the assistance of displaced persons who were displaced by the Russian war machine from the Eastern Ghouta in the Damascus Suburbs governorate and the governorates of Homs and Daraa, and to protect the residents of those areas who remained from the arrests, persecution, kidnappings and enforced disappearances being perpetrated by the Syrian Regime and Iranian militias.