The US Abandons its Commitments in South Syria Agreement
The region of south Syria has sealed the complete collapse of the so-called “the de-escalation zone agreements”, yet another item in a long list of Security Council’s failures as the Security Council didn’t maintain any form of security or peace in Syria or prevent the displacement of hundreds of thousands in south Syria. This crippling powerlessness was deliberately staged and repeated over the course of seven years. After Russian forces had crushed Damascus suburbs governorate’s Eastern Ghouta and ended the armed opposition’s resistance in northern suburbs of Homs, the collapse of the de-escalation agreement in south Syria comes as part of the policy to move from neutralizing one area to another despite the fact that the Syrian people, who refused to submit to the family rules in Syria, thought that south Syria will be different as this region (which comprises parts of Daraa, Quneitra, and Suwayda governorates) wasn’t only subject to the de-escalation agreement, which was the result of the fourth round of Astana talks, of which Russian was the primary sponsor, but also to a subsequent, more important agreement, namely the bilateral Russian-American agreement which was struck between President Trump and President Putin.
SNHR has dedicated this report, which was released today, to highlight the attacks carried out by Russian-Syrian alliance forces between mid-June and July 30, 2018, in addition to documenting the violations by ISIS in Hawd al Yarmouk area. The report draws upon account from survivors or victims’ relatives, as the report contains two accounts, in addition to the ongoing monitoring for developments and incidents.
The report stresses that the US was a partner in the travesty of south Syria on account of its abrupt abandonment of its pledges to maintain stability there. The report notes that President Donald Trump didn’t even mention the violation of the south Syria agreement at the Helsinki meeting as if it was something of no concern to him. This, according to the report, reminded the Syrians of the former US President’s redline which let the Syrian people down with respect to the chemical weapons issue.
The report outlines the timeline of the south Syria battle. The report notes that Syrian regime forces, in their offensive on the strategic south Syrian region, employed the same tactics used in the Eastern Ghouta offensive in February 2018 where they carried out heavy airstrikes followed by an aerial shelling that targeted the rear lines on battlefronts, and, thirdly, deliberately targeting residential neighborhoods, medical facilities, and markets which includes the civilians who are fleeing military operations.
The report highlights the agreements in Daraa and Quneitra governorates and the violations by Syrian regime forces in the areas included in the agreements, as Syrian regime forces seized control of areas they weren’t supposed to enter and made arrests that targeted civilians and even fighters from armed opposition factions who agreed to settlements. The report records no less than 86 incidents of arrest in Daraa governorate in the areas that have fallen recently into the control of the Syrian regime. While some of the detainees were released hours or days after their arrest, the fate of many, the report stresses, are still unknown and are now considered forcibly-disappeared persons. Additionally, the report records lootings of properties, houses, and shops by Syrian regime forces and their pro-regime militias after they took control of the eastern areas in Daraa governorate.
The report outlines the most notable violations by Russian-Syrian alliance forces in the south region as the report documents the killing of 281 civilians, including 84 children and 63 women (adult female), at the hands of Russian-Syrian regime forces who also perpetrated no less than 12 massacres and carried out 25 attacks on vital civilian facilities, including eight attacks on medical facilities.
The report adds that Syrian regime helicopters has dropped no less than 862 barrel bombs on the region of south Syria in the period of time covered by the report. The report stresses that these offensives have resulted in the displacement of 340,000 people, many of them were forced to go back to the areas that were included in the local agreements after being faced with a very difficult choice – either die of an unforgiving starvation and thirst in light of the scarcity of aids or return to the areas that were taken over by the Syrian regime recently and risk getting arrested or abducted. SNHR can confirm, after speaking to a number of IDPs, that the poor humanitarian and living conditions that they had to endure at the border line was the primary factor that forced them to go back to the Syrian regime’s areas of control in what amounts to a suicide in the absence of any guarantees that can protect them from the arrest or torture that might await them, which was the case in the areas that saw similar agreements in Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus suburbs.
Moreover, the report notes that thousands of Syrian citizens who opted not to go back to the Syrian regime’s areas of control were forced to flee again towards areas in the western suburbs of Daraa, the villages of Quneitra suburbs, and al Golan border areas.
In addition, the report records the aerial shelling by Heet town, located in Hawd al Yarmouk, by ISIS, noting that it seemed this artillery shelling was the result of an implicit coordination with the Syrian regime and its ally the Russian regime. The report stresses that ISIS’s attacks have resulted in the killing of four civilians, including one child, in Heet town, which is under the control of armed opposition factions, while no less than 1,220 families fled the town towards towns in the northwestern suburbs of Daraa city. The report also notes that no less than 5,000 civilians have fled Hawd al Yarmouk towards the border plains with al Golan in light of the Russian-Syrian offensive that extended to Hawd al Yarmouk on July 19.
The report stresses that Russian-Syrian alliance forces have violated the de-escalation agreement and the Russian-American bilateral agreement, as well as Security Council Resolutions 2139 and 2254 which both states that indiscriminate attacks muse be ceased. Also, these forces have violated Articles 7 and 8 of Rome Statute through the crime of willful killing which constitutes war crimes.
Moreover, Russian-Syrian alliance forces have committed the crime of displacement against civilian residents in a systematic, organized, and widespread manner which constitutes a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions and constitutes a crime against humanity according to Article 7 of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statue. Those forces had no measures in place to provide shelter, healthcare, or food for the displaced civilians.
The US has violated the Russian-US agreement by failing to intervene to deter Russian forces in their attacks on the south Syria region, as well as failing to take any actual steps towards protecting civilians in the southern region.
The report calls on the US administration to act upon its responsibilities as per the south Syria agreement, shoulder the repercussions of what happened as a result of its shocking violation of the agreement, and compensate thousands of victims who were awfully harmed as a result of it abandoning the south Syria agreement.
The report stresses that the UN General Assembly should hold the ruling Syrian regime fully responsible for displacing one-third of the Syrian people, including legal and materials responsibilities. Also, ensure that victims are fully compensated for the grave losses they had to endure, including returning properties to their rightful owners.
The report calls for implementing the ‘Responsibility to Protect (R2P)’ norm especially after all political initiatives, through the Arab League agreement and then Mr. Kofi Annan’s plan and the Cessation of Hostilities and Astana agreements that followed, have been to no avail. Therefore, after all of this, action should be taken under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations and the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ norm, which was established by the UN General Assembly, should be implemented. The Security Council is still hindering the protection of civilians in Syria.
The report stresses that the UN special envoy to Syria should condemn the perpetrators of crimes and massacres who were primarily responsible for dooming de-escalation agreements, effectively shattering and ending the entire political process and hold the Syrian-Russian alliance fully responsible for this. And disclose to the Syrian people Russia’s intentions to completely take control of the Syrian lands by force and its explicit desire to rehabilitate the present Syrian regime, which means formulating a political solution that suits its interests.
Lastly, the report calls on the Commission of Inquiry to release a special report on the blatant violations that took place in the south Syrian region similar to the report on Aleppo’s eastern neighborhoods and use what was included in this report.