The Deaths of 32 Civilians, all Killed by Syrian-Russian Alliance Forces Coincided with Two Rounds of Discussions
BY: Pool via REUTERS
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has issued a report documenting the most notable violations committed by the parties participating in the Constitutional Committee during the second round of the Committee’s Small Body’s meetings, indicating that 32 civilians were killed at the hand of Syrian-Russian alliance forces during the two rounds of discussions of the Committee’s Small Body.
The 15-page report notes that the Sochi Conference of Russia, held on January 30, 2018, constitutes the reference for the formation of the Constitutional Committee, arguing that this is the main way to end the conflict, even though the Syrian political opposition refused to participate in that conference. The idea of the Constitutional Committee was later adopted by former international envoy Staffan de Mistura, with the current UN envoy to Syria, Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, following the same path.
The report outlines the context in which the Constitutional Committee Large Body and subsequently the Constitutional Committee Small Body were formed, and refers to the context in which the first and second rounds of the Constitutional Committee Small Body took place.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“These reports, which reflect only violations and crimes committed during the period of the negotiations’ rounds, aim to emphasize that while a draft national contract is being discussed, Russian and Syrian Regime forces continue to bomb hospitals and vital facilities, and carry out arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture; they continue with their ultimate goal of gaining more time to rehabilitate the Syrian regime according to the logic of military victory, and any of the negotiation process’s outputs will not be respected then. The international community and the United Nations should press the negotiating parties to stop the violations in case they are serious in the political process.”
The report aims to outline the most notable violations that the SNHR team was able to document committed by the parties involved in the Constitutional Committee (Syrian Regime forces, the regime’s Russian ally, and factions of the Armed Opposition) during the two rounds of discussions of the Committee’s Small Body, the first held from November 4 to November 9, 2019 and the second held from November 25 to November 30, 2019; due to these criteria, this report does not include any data on violations by Syrian Democratic Forces, the US-led Coalition forces, or the Operation Peace Spring forces (Turkish forces and the Syrian National Army) during this period. The report outlines the most notable incidents of violations committed by the participating parties in conjunction with the meetings of the second session of the Committee’s Small Body in particular.
The report explains that most of Syrian society expected that the frequency and severity of violations committed against it would decrease after the constitutional process began. The constitutional process usually takes place after the cessation of conflict and the start of negotiations, until the parties involved reach a mutually agreeable settlement after which they draft a constitutional declaration document based on this. In Syria’s case, however, the conflict is still ongoing, and the Syrian regime and its allies continue to perpetrate various types of violations, with some of these constituting crimes against humanity and others constituting war crimes; these ongoing atrocities include torture inside detention centers and regular bombardment of vital facilities, most notably medical centers. In addition, the fate of the forcibly disappeared hasn’t been revealed by the negotiating parties.
The report notes that although the Constitutional Committee is a Russian idea, while the Geneva sessions have been taking place, Russian forces have been conducting fierce and concentrated bombardment on several towns in the southern and western suburbs of Idlib. Also, the last third of November saw an increase in the pace of displacement, with the inhabitants of some villages and towns that had not previously been fully displaced starting to flee northwards as a result of Russian forces escalation of their air attacks on areas in the southern and western suburbs of Idlib, estimating that 30,000 civilians have been displaced, as the report states.
The report outlines the most notable violations committed by Syrian Regime forces and their Russian ally in conjunction with the first round of meetings of the Constitutional Committee Small Body, from November 4 to November 9, during which Syrian-Russian alliance forces killed 22 civilians, including 10 children and two women (adult female), of whom nine civilians, including five children, were killed by Syrian Regime forces, and 13 civilians, including five children and two women, killed by Russian forces. The report also documents nine cases of arrests by Syrian Regime forces during the same period, in addition to at least 35 incidents of attacks on vital civilian facilities, including four on schools, seven on medical facilities, seven on places of worship, and seven on Civil Defense Centers (facilities and vehicles), according to the report, Syrian Regime forces were responsible for 30 attacks, while Russian forces carried out five attacks. The report adds that the Syrian regime’s air force dropped at least 35 barrel bombs during the same period, all dropped on Latakia governorate.
The report also outlines the most notable violations committed by Syrian Regime forces and their Russian ally in conjunction with the second round of meetings of the Constitutional Committee Small Body, from November 25 to November 30, during which Syrian-Russian alliance forces killed 10 civilians, including four children, of whom seven civilians, including three children, were killed by Syrian Regime forces, while three civilians, including one child, killed by Russian forces. The report also documents 13 cases of arrests by Syrian Regime forces during the same period, in addition to at least six incidents of attacks on vital civilian facilities, four of which were by Syrian Regime forces, while Russian forces carried out two attacks. The report adds that the Syrian regime’s air force dropped at least 82 barrel bombs during the same period, most of which dropped on Idlib governorate.
The report notes that no incidents of bombardment causing material or human casualties were recorded by factions of the Armed Opposition on areas controlled by the Syrian regime during the period covered in this report.
The report stresses that the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance forces have undoubtedly violated UN Security Council Resolutions 2139 and 2254 which ordered a cessation of indiscriminate attacks, as well as violating a wide range of customary international humanitarian law rules, and also violating articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute by committing intentional homicide, all of which crimes constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The report also notes that the incidents of bombardment have incidentally caused civilian casualties, including injuries, as well as causing significant damage to civilian objects. There are very strong indications suggesting that this damage was extremely excessive in comparison to the intended military benefit, with the attacks failing to discriminate between civilians and combatants in most cases. Also, it seems that some of the attacks appear to have deliberately targeted vital facilities and civilian areas.
The report further notes that the report issued by the delegates to the 2005 Summit states unanimously that each country has a responsibility to protect its population from crimes against humanity and war crimes. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, the prevention of incitement to commit them by all possible means, and when the state clearly fails to protect its population from egregious crimes, or itself is committing such crimes as in the case of the Syrian regime, it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene to take protective measures in a collective, decisive and timely manner.
The report calls on the UN special envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of crimes and massacres, and those who are primarily responsible for obstructing the political process, 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, and stresses the importance of requesting that the Syrian regime, its Russian ally, and opposition factions to stop all violations and secure good faith measures by stopping the bombing and at least to disclose the fate of the forcibly disappeared persons.
The report calls on the Security Council to take additional steps following its adoption of Resolution 2254, and stresses the importance of referring the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court, adding that all those who are responsible should be held accountable including the Russian regime whose involvement in war crimes has been repeatedly proven.
The report stresses the need to ensure peace and security and to implement the principle of Responsibility to Protect civilians’ lives and to save the Syrian people’s heritage and historical artefacts from destruction, looting and vandalism, calling on all relevant United Nations agencies to make greater efforts to provide food, medical and humanitarian assistance in areas where fighting has ceased, and in internally displaced persons camps, and to follow up with those States that have pledged voluntary contributions.
In light of the split within the Security Council and its utter inability to take any effective action, the report stresses the need to taking action on the national and regional levels to form alliances to support the Syrian people by protecting them from daily killing and by lifting sieges, as well as by increasing support for relief efforts. Additionally, the principle of universal jurisdiction should be enacted 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’, stressing the need to resort to Chapter VII, and implement the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly. The Security Council is still hindering the protection of civilians in Syria.
The report recommends that the OHCHR should submit a report to the Human Rights Council and other organs of the United Nations on the incidents mentioned in this report since these attacks were perpetrated by the parties to the conflict, should train Syrian organizations to undertake clearance of mines and other unexploded ordnance, and raise local awareness of the dangers of such ordnance, and should establish a platform that brings together a number of Syrian organizations active in documenting violations and humanitarian assistance, in order to facilitate an exchange of skills and experiences within Syrian society.
The report calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) to launch investigations into the cases included in this report and previous reports, and 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 accidents that are responsible for air strikes, with the exception of only one in three years of Russian intervention in Syria.
The report also stresses that the Syrian regime must stop violating the Syrian constitution by killing Syrian citizens, destroying their homes and disappearing and torturing tens of thousands of them, stop the indiscriminate shelling and targeting residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, as well as ending the acts of torture that have caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian citizens in detention centers, and complying with UN Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law and the Syrian constitution and law.
The report recommends that the Russian regime should launch investigations into the incidents included in this report, make the findings of these investigations public for the Syrian people, and hold the people involved accountable, as well as demanding that the Russian regime should compensate all the damaged centers and facilities, to 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, and to completely cease the bombing of hospitals, protected objects, and civilian areas, and respect customary international law.