On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor released its annual report for 2019 on the human rights situation for various countries in the world, with the Syria section of the report reaching 69 pages, which included documentation of multiple patterns of violations of international law.
The report referred to the military escalation seen in the northwest region of Syria, and noted that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons in that military campaign, as well as referring to the most recent, still ongoing military escalation that began in December 2019, and stating that Syrian Regime forces and Russian forces have targeted infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and markets. The report also stated that Russian forces were implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from indiscriminate airstrikes, which caused widespread destruction to infrastructure and vital civilian facilities, including medical facilities, schools and shelters.
The report talked about the significant issues of violations of international human rights law that occurred in Syria in 2019, first and foremost: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the Syrian regime, including those involving the use of chemical weapons, forced disappearances; torture, including torture involving sexual violence; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; a lack of independence of the judiciary; prisoners of conscience; undue restrictions on free opinion and expression and journalism, and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, as well as including other types of violations of civil and political rights. The report confirmed that the Syrian government has taken no steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials responsible for human rights violations or abuses.
The report focused on the fact that Syrian regime-linked groups and militias were engaged in frequent violations, including indiscriminate killings and massacres against civilians, kidnappings, sexual violence, and arbitrary detentions, emphasizing that the Syrian regime-affiliated militias, including the Lebanese Hizballah, repeatedly deliberately targeted civilians.
The report further emphasized that Russian forces are also implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from airstrikes characterized as indiscriminate which have resulted in the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure. These airstrikes, which have destroyed hospitals, shelters, markets, homes, and other integral civilian facilities, damaging medical supplies and equipment and shutting down vital health care facilities, follow a well-documented pattern of attacks with serious and deleterious humanitarian and civilian impacts.