Violent Military Escalation in Northwest Syria Despite the Convening of the Constitutional Committee Meetings

56 civilians, including 19 Children, Were Killed by Syrian-Russian Alliance Forces in 16 Days

SNHR

Press release:
In its latest report, released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) confirms that the military escalation in northwest Syria is still ongoing despite the convening of the Constitutional Committee meetings, noting that 56 civilians, including 19 children, were killed at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces in 16 days.
 
The report outlines the historical context of the military escalation in the northwestern region of Syria from April 26 to November 15, 2019, and the events that took place such as the ceasefire agreements announced on August 1, 2019 and on August 31, 2019, in addition to the Syrian regime reusing barrel bombs on civilian areas and the resumption of the Russian Air Force its air strikes on the region.
As the report recalls, the head of the Syrian regime and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Armed Forces visited al Habeit town in the southern suburbs of Idlib on October 22 and met with members of Syrian Regime forces, as well as directly supervising bombardment carried out by artillery forces stationed in Tal’as town in the southern suburbs of Idlib, a clear indication that he is still has primary responsibility for all violations committed by the Syrian armed forces and for violating the ceasefire declared.
 
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The Russian-Syrian alliance did not care about the Constitutional Committee starting its work, and continued to kill civilians and bomb vital facilities and populated areas and to displace the population, thus committing violations, some of which amounting to war crimes. This completely contradicts the committee’s name and course, because any genuine discussion of or preparations for creating a constitution can come only in the final stages of the conflict and after serious negotiations that are framed in a new constitutional declaration; by contrast, the continuing bombing by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally, the inventor of the idea of the Constitutional Committee in cooperation with former UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, confirms the Russian-Syrian alliance’s lack of seriousness and the absolute absurdity of the current course of events, with the international community unable since the beginning to pressure the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to even stop bombing medical centers at least.”
 
The report sheds light on events in northwest Syria (consisting of Idlib governorate and parts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia governorates), outlining the record of the most notable human rights violations as a result of the military escalation by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces on the area between April 26, 2019, and November 15, 2019. The report also outlines the record of the most notable violations committed following the recent escalation on October 30, following the ceasefire declared by Russian forces on August 30.
 
The report stresses that since the military intervention of Russian forces in Syria in September 2015, the Russian Air Force has carried out tens of thousands of aerial sorties, and that Russian forces have committed hundreds of violations of international humanitarian law, most of which can be categorized as war crimes, with the Russian regime unashamedly stating that it’s been using Syrian territory as a centre for weapons tests. The report notes that most of these weapons have been used against civilian targets, including hospitals, schools, markets and residential buildings, amid unprecedented international silence. The report also notes that despite all these violations, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation has denied carrying out certain attacks, further noting that of the eight largest massacres denied by Russian forces despite overwhelming evidence of their responsibility, the SNHR team has been able to prove its involvement in seven of them, some of which the report outlines. The report confirms the presence of Russian ground forces, despite repeated denial by the Russian Defense Ministry.
 
The report reveals that the residents of northwest Syria are not only suffering from aerial and artillery bombardment by the Russian-Syrian alliance, but those under the control of the extremist organization Hay’at Tahrir al Sham are also subjected to various types of additional repression and violations, with the Salvation Government of HTS beginning, almost a year ago, to tighten its grip on civilian facilities in areas under the group’s control and issuing successive orders tightening the noose on civilians there.
 
The report documents the deaths of 1,124 civilians, including 301 children, 186 women (adult female), and 42 massacres, in northwest Syria at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces between April 26, 2019, and November 15, 2019, of whom the Syrian regime killed 853 civilians, including 234 children and 143 women, and committed 31 massacres, while Russian forces killed another 271 civilians, including 67 children and 43 women, and committed 11 massacres. The report also notes that Syrian-Russian alliance forces killed at least 15 medical personnel, 10 Civil Defense personnel, and two media workers, and carried out at least 500 attacks on vital civilian facilities.
 
The report notes that at least 28 cluster munitions attacks were documented at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces in northwest Syria, in addition to 24 incendiary weapons attacks were carried out on civilian areas far from the frontlines. The report adds that one chemical attack was carried out by Syrian Regime forces in Latakia governorate on May 19, 2019, during the same period.
 
The report also notes that between April 26 and November 15, the Syrian regime carried out several attacks using nail-filled missiles fired by heavy machine guns mounted on fixed-wing L-39 warplanes, with the report able to document at least seven such attacks. According to the report, the Syrian Regime air force, using both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, dropped at least 3,631 barrel bombs on northwest Syria during the same period.
 
The report outlines the record of the most notable violations between October 30, the date of the recent military escalation’s start, and November 15, 2019. The report documents that Syrian-Russian alliance forces killed at least 56 civilians, including 19 children, six women, and committed one massacre, 20 of whom were killed at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, including six children and two women, while Russian forces killed 36 civilians, including 13 children, four women, and committed one massacre. The report also documents the death of one medical worker, one Civil Defense worker and one media activist, all at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, during the same period
 
The report reveals that at least 46 attacks were carried out on vital civilian facilities in northwest Syria at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces from October 30, to November 15, 2019, adding that the Syrian Regime air force, using both fixed-wing warplanes and helicopters, dropped at least 54 barrel bombs during the same period.
 
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 amounting 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), with Russian and Syrian forces deliberately targeting medical personnel in a number of attacks.
 
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 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.
 
Syrian Regime forces have also explicitly violated the Sochi Agreement by carrying out artillery bombardment of a number of villages and towns in northwest Syria, mostly in the demilitarized zone, in the eastern suburbs of Hama and in the south-eastern suburbs of Idlib. These attacks have resulted in civilian casualties.
In addition, Syrian Regime forces and Shiite militias violated the Sochi agreement by attacking factions of the Armed Opposition and killing a number of their members.
 
The report stresses that Syrian Regime forces have practiced the crime of displacement in a systematic, widespread and organized manner against civilian residents, which constitutes a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and amounts to a crime against humanity under Article VII of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We have not recorded any measures by these forces to provide shelter, health care or food to the displaced civilians.
 
The report calls on the UN Envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of the crimes and massacres and the main culprits in the collapse of agreements on de-escalation zones, and to re-sequence the peace process so that it can resume its natural course after Russia’s attempts to divert and distort it, empowering the Constitutional Committee prior to the establishment of a transitional governing body.
 
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 ensure the establishment of peace and security and the implementation of the principle of the Responsibility to Protect civilians and save Syrians’ lives, heritage and cultural artefacts from destruction, pillage and vandalism, to pass a resolution concerning some seven million internally displaced persons in Syria that addresses forced 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.
 
In light of the split within the Security Council and its utter inability, 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 in order to conduct fair trials for all those who were involved.
 
The report calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly, and to invoke Chapter VII. The Security Council is still hindering the protection of civilians in Syria
The report further 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 Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) to launch investigations into the cases included in this report and previous reports, to clearly identify those responsible for the attacks in the event that results reached are likely, especially Russian forces; the reports of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic are virtually devoid of any attribution of responsibility for air strikes, with the exception of only one case in three years of Russian intervention in Syria.
 
The report calls on the Syrian regime to stop violating the Syrian constitution by killing Syrian citizens, destroying their homes and disappearing and torturing tens of thousands of them, to stop indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, to end the use of internationally outlawed weapons and barrel bombs, to end the acts of torture that have caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian citizens in detention centers, and to ensure compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, customary humanitarian law and the Syrian constitution and law.
 
Finally, the report calls on the Russian regime to launch investigations into the incidents included in this report, to make the findings of these investigations public for the Syrian people, to hold the those responsible accountable, to compensate all the damaged centers and facilities, rebuild and rehabilitate them, to compensate all the families of victims who were killed by the current Russian regime, as well as all the wounded, to completely cease the bombing of hospitals, protected objects, and civilian areas, and to respect customary international law.
 

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