Syrian-Russian Alliance Forces Trump Other Parties again with 32 Massacres
SNHR has published its monthly report documenting the massacres perpetrated by the parties to the conflict for the month of September.
The report highlights the de-escalation agreement in Syria, which commenced on May 6, 2017, after it was announced at the end of the fourth round of Astana talks which was held between representatives from Russia, Turkey, and Iran as the states that sponsored Ankara Ceasefire agreement. The agreement outlined four major de-escalation areas, where a cessation of combat operations will take place in these areas, humanitarian aids will be delivered, and IDPs residents will be allowed a return to these areas. These areas, as specified by the agreement, are: Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas (parts of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia governorates), northern Homs governorate, Eastern Ghouta, and parts of Daraa and al Quneitra governorates in the southern parts of Syria. It was provided that an expert committee would accurately assign the borders of said zones at a later date.
Also, the report briefs that the American and Russian presidents, following an extensive round of talks between Russia, USA, and Jordan that commenced in May 2017 in Amman, Jordan’s capital, announced that a ceasefire agreement has been reached in southwestern Syria – Daraa, Quneitra, and Suwayda governorates on the sidelines of the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg. The agreement went into force at 12:00 on Sunday July 9, 2017, and provided for the passage of humanitarian aids in addition to a ceasefire between the conflicting parties (Syrian regime forces and their allies on one side, and armed opposition factions on the other side). Also, the agreement specifies that maintaining security in this region is the Russian forces’ responsibility in coordination with the Americans and Jordanians.
Then, the report talks about other local agreements that have been struck, such as Eastern Ghouta between armed opposition factions in Eastern Ghouta and officials from the Russian side, and a similar agreement in northern suburbs of Homs governorate. However, the texts of these agreements haven’t been made public on Russian government’s websites, and the same for armed opposition factions who didn’t publicize these agreements, except for Failaq al Rahman who published the text of the agreement on their official website. At the end of the agreement, according to the copy on Failaq al Rahman’s website, a signature by a Russian sponsor was shown but without an explicit name. This helps, the report notes, the sponsoring Russian side to easily dissolve from these agreements with no subsequent political or legal obligations and repercussions.
A de-escalation agreement was signed, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, in Egypt’s capital Cairo on Saturday, July 22, 2017, in Eastern Ghouta following a round of talks between Russian military officials and factions from the armed opposition that took place in Egypt’s capital Cairo. The agreement was to come into effect at 12:00 of the same day, while Failq al Rahman joined the agreement after a representative from the faction signed the agreement with a Russian government representative in Geneva city on Wednesday, August 16, 2017, as the agreement established Failaq al Rahman’s and their areas’ inclusion in the agreement, where it was to come into effect at 21:00 of Friday, August 18, 2017.
The report also sheds light on northern suburbs of Homs and southern suburbs of Hama de-escalation agreement which was signed in Cairo on Monday, July 31, 2017 following a round of talks between armed opposition factions in the area and the Syrian regime represented by the Russian government a sponsoring party, as the agreement was to commence at 12:00 on Thursday, August 3, 2017. Most notably, the agreements provided for a full cessation of hostilities between the conflicting parties in the relevant areas -with the exclusion of the areas in which ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham are present- and for humanitarian aids to enter these areas and for detainees to be released as per the demands of each party as to which detainees are to be released. The report notes that the toll of victims killed by Syrian regime forces and their widespread violations reflect the lack of commitment to the two most recent signed agreements on the Syrian regime’s part.
The report notes that the included areas have seen a relatively good drop in the rates of killing since the agreements’ commencement in relation to the past months since March 2011. Nonetheless, breaches didn’t stop, mainly by the Syrian regime, who is seemingly the party that would be most affected should the ceasefire go on, and in particular extrajudicial killing crimes and, more horrendously, deaths due to torture, as rates of deaths due to torture didn’t see any changes from the month prior to the commencement of the agreement. This strongly asserts that there is a ceasefire of some sort on the table, but the crimes that the international community -especially the Russian, Turkish, and Iranian sponsors- won’t see are still going on as nothing had changed.
The report adds that with the end of the sixth round of talks in the Kazakhstani capital, Astana, which were held over the course of two days (September 14-15, 2017), a de-escalation zone was established in Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas, as military forces were to be deployed (Russian, Turkish, and Iranian) to monitor the agreement, with the passage of humanitarian aids. However, on September 19, Syrian-Russian alliance started a heavy offensive against Idlib governorate in response to Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s “Ya Ebadallah Uthbotou” battle. Supported by some opposition faction (The Islamic Turkistani Party, Jaish al Izza, and Jaish al Nukhba), Hay’at Tahrir al Sham started this battle in northeastern Hama governorate. Subsequently, Syrian-Russian alliance expanded the offensive to include the suburbs of Aleppo and Hama governorates and Eastern Ghouta in Damascus suburbs.
The report records that Syrian-Russian alliance forces are again topping all parties in perpetrating massacres for the first time in four months, as Syrian regime forces perpetrated the most massacres with 42% of all massacres, while Russian forces came second with 33%, followed by international coalition forces with 23% of September’s massacres. It should be noted that most of the Syrian-Russian alliance’s massacres -63% of the massacres committed by them- were in Deir Ez-Zour governorate, whereas 50% of the massacres committed by international coalition forces were in Raqqa governorate.
The report contains two accounts. Furthermore, the reports sheds light on the high documentation standards incorporated in the report, which rely on direct accounts from survivors or victims’ families and local media activists. In addition, we have analyzed the pictures and videos and some medical records we received. We have all the pictures and videos that are mentioned in this report in a secret online database, and backup copes on hard drives. Certainly, we can’t claim that we have documented all cases in light of the ban and pursuit by Syrian regime forces and other armed groups.
As a result of these challenges, the type and number of evidence vary from one case to another. In light of the challenges we mentioned above, many of the incidents’ legal description change based on new evidences or clues that surface after we had released the report. We add these evidences and clues to our data archive. On the other hand, many incidents don’t constitute a violation to the international humanitarian law, but it involved collateral damages, so we record and archive these incidents to know what happened historically and to preserve it as a national record. However, we don’t describe it as massacres.
The report records no less than 286 massacres perpetrated by the parties to the conflict in Syria since the start of 2017. Moreover, the report outlines the toll of massacres in September 2017, as 43 massacres were documented. The report describes an incident as a massacre if it involves the killing of five peaceful individuals at once. Based on this report, Syrian regime forces perpetrated 18 massacres in September, followed by Russian forces with 14 massacres, international coalition forces with 10 massacres, and, lastly, ISIS with one massacre.
According to the report, Syrian regime forces perpetrated 10 massacres in Deir Ez-Zour, three in Idlib, two in Hama, two in Damascus suburbs, and one in Homs, while Russian forces perpetrated 10 massacres in Deir Ez-Zour, three in Idlib, and one in Aleppo. On the other hand, five of the international coalition’s massacres were in Raqqa, in addition to four in Deir Ez-Zour and one in Hasaka. Lastly, ISIS committed one massacre in Raqqa governorate.
According to the victim documentation team at SNHR, 430 individuals were killed in those massacres, including 139 children and 85 women (adult female). This means that 53% of all victims were women and children, which is a considerably high percentage and an indication that civilians were targeted in most of these massacres.
The report breaks down the victim toll of September’s massacres, where Syrian regime forces killed 177 individuals, including 53 children and 37 women, while Russian forces killed 152 civilians, including 46 children and 29 women. In the massacres they perpetrated, international coalition forces killed 96 civilians, including 37 children and 18 women, while the death toll of ISIS’s massacre was five civilians, including three children and one woman.
The report stresses that the bombing incidents, whether it was deliberate or indiscriminate, targeted armless civilians, thus, The Syrian-Russian alliance forces have violated the rules of the international human rights law which guarantee the right to life. Furthermore, these violations were perpetrated during a non-international armed conflict which amount to war crimes as all elements of a war crime have been fulfilled. In addition, ISIS and international coalition forces have committed massacres that constitute war crimes according to the report. However, these crimes are not crimes against humanity as with the case of Syrian regime forces and their pro-regime forces that are committing massacres in a widespread and systematic manner.
Moreover, these attacks, especially bombing, have resulted in collateral damages that involved casualties, injuries, and damages to civil facilities. There are strong indicators that prove that the damage was deeply severe compared to the estimated military benefit. In all of the cases, we couldn’t confirm that there were any military targets before or during these attacks.
Additionally, the magnitude of the massacres, its frequent pattern, the exaggerated use of strength, its military nature, the indiscriminate manner of the bombing, and the coordinated approach of these attacks must be based on high orders, and a state policy.
The report calls for referring the case in Syria to the International Criminal Court and stop the disrupting of the decisions that must be adopted by the Security Council against the Syrian government. This disruption is a wrong message to all dictatorships around the world and supports the culture of crime. Also, immediate sanctions must be imposed on all individuals involved in widespread human rights violations.
Moreover, the report calls for binding the Syrian government to allow all relief and human rights organizations to enter Syria as well as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and journalists and let them work without any obstructions.
The report emphasizes that all militias that are fighting with the Syrian government and have committed widespread massacres such as Iranian militias, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, other Shiite brigades, National Defense Army, and “Shabiha”, must be listed on the international list of terrorist organizations.
The report calls on the sponsoring Russian side to stop the Syrian regime from dooming all de-escalation agreements, and start making progress in the detainees issue by revealing the fates of 76,000 forcibly-disappeared persons.
Finally, the report calls for the implementation of “Responsibility to Protect” norm which was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, in Syria as it is direly needed there.