The International Commission of Inquiry and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Are Responsible for Identifying the Perpetrators of Attacks
In its latest report released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) calls on the United Nations to reveal the medical facilities that have been targeted which were listed in the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism, attributing responsibility to both the International Commission of Inquiry and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for identifying the perpetrators of the attacks.
The 16-page report states that the Syrian regime and its allies have relentlessly and calculatingly targeted medical centers and their personnel in order to inflict the greatest possible amount of terror and pain on Syrian society by targeting essential facilities that are indispensable to normal life. As the report points out, the Syrian and Russian regimes have continued to bomb hospitals, encouraged by the lack of any meaningful reaction from the international community to such criminal acts, which constitute repeated and systemic war crimes.
The report notes that all those involved in the popular uprising in Syria and later relief organizations in the areas outside the control of the Syrian regime and its allies have exerted exceptional efforts to protect medical facilities, resorting to various strategies such as the use of basements in buildings, often reinforced with sand berms, the use of early warning systems, even up to using caves in mountainous areas as medical facilities. All these attempts were ultimately unsuccessful due to details of these facilities’ locations being passed to the Syrian regime and its Russian ally by informers or through their being identified by reconnaissance planes that allowed the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to locate and target them. According to the report, these medical facilities were targeted using guided missiles. Many medical facilities have been bombed repeatedly on different occasions, while ambulances and roads which they were expected to use have also been targeted.
This report highlights the usefulness or otherwise of the United Nations humanitarian deconfliction mechanism, criticizing its limited impact on the protection of medical facilities. The report also highlights the most notable attacks on medical facilities whose coordinates were shared with the mechanism, noting that all the attacks documented in the report were carried out by Syrian-Russian alliance forces, whilst the SNHR has not recorded any attacks by International Coalition forces on medical facilities listed in the mechanism.
The report also notes that it could not determine the number of medical facilities whose coordinates were shared with the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism because the mechanism has no website or other source that can be relied on to provide these statistics; however, the report was able to monitor several medical organizations that had shared the coordinates of the medical facilities they support which were subsequently subjected to numerous attacks, adding that all information related to the statistics on the medical facilities listed in the mechanism was obtained through statements by officials of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The report reveals that the same humanitarian deconfliction mechanism has been implemented in other nations that saw armed conflicts, such as Afghanistan, Yemen and Mali, where it achieved significant successes, with thousands of medical facilities deconflicted and thus protected from attacks and bombings. In Syria, however, Russia and the Syrian regime have placed themselves above the law and constantly violated several rules of customary law and UN Security Council resolutions. As the report notes, the Syrian, Russian and Iranian regimes have consistently behaved like rogue regimes in Syria, with no-one apparently able or willing to stop their overt and flagrant violations, which have allowed them to effectively disregard and triumph over international law.
The report also reveals that there is a sense of intense frustration and total despair at the lack of any protection for medical facilities in Syria by the international community, despite such protection supposedly being guaranteed under international law, adding that this has prompted some organizations to try to test coordination and work with the UN humanitarian deconfliction mechanism in the hope that this might succeed in deconflicting some medical facilities or at least clearly expose the perpetrators of these bombings which constitute war crimes. Details of between 20 percent and 50 percent of the total medical facilities were shared with the mechanism, with these organizations sharing only details of easily identified medical facilities which the Syrian and Russian regimes could locate easily otherwise by use of reconnaissance planes or local informants.
The report stresses that, while it can’t determine with total certainty that the sharing of the coordinates for these medical facilities with Russian forces facilitated their being bombed, the record of Russia’s criminal regime in Syria indicates that it will not hesitate to use these coordinates and take advantage of them to bomb these medical facilities and even to share them with the Syrian regime.
The report asserts that there is no benefit in sharing the coordinates of these facilities with the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism and indeed that doing so may be considered an actively harmful step since it further facilitates the possible risk of the Russian and Syrian regimes being given the coordinates of these medical facilities. This is particularly dangerous since this data is shared by the Office of Humanitarian Affairs in Turkey with the Office of Humanitarian Affairs in Damascus, which may be put under pressure and blackmail by the Syrian regime, infamous for its continuous looting of humanitarian relief funds and for using these monies to benefit the regime rather than for any humanitarian purposes, noting that that following the bombing of any medical facility listed with the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism, it is imperative the mechanism should at the very least confirm that the facility in question was bombed, and should perhaps later help to determine more accurately who was responsible for these attacks, or should provide the Independent International Commission of Inquiry and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with the data and evidence in their possession in order to identify and expose the party responsible for bombing those medical facilities.
The report documents 17 attacks on facilities listed in the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism carried out by Syrian-Russian alliance forces between September 2014 and July 12, 2019. These incidents targeted nine medical facilities, most of which occurred in 2018 and 2019. The report notes that of the 17 attacks, nine occurred during the recent military campaign against the Idlib de-escalation zone between April 26, and July 12, 2019.
The report stresses that the Syrian and Russian regimes continue to bomb medical facilities using their air forces, which no one else has in that region, with the deliberate bombing of medical facilities constituting a war crime, noting that the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism has not contributed to the protection of medical facilities in the Syrian conflict; rather, it may have provided access for the Russian or Syrian regimes to the data provided by Syrian medical organizations on these facilities.
The report reveals that the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism did not publicly request any investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Commission of Inquiry into the bombings of facilities listed in the mechanism, because the failure to publicly expose the perpetrators of the bombing of medical facilities and personnel has contributed significantly to the perpetrators’ confidence in repeating these crimes blatantly and with apparent impunity.
The report stresses that the incidents included are unquestionably breaches of UN Security Council resolutions 2139, 2254 and 2286, noting that most of the attacks included targeting of unarmed civilians, and therefore, the perpetrators have violated International Human Rights Law. In addition, these crimes were committed in a non-international armed conflict, meaning that these attacks this amount to and possesse all the constituent elements of a war crime.
The report calls on the Security Council to take extra steps after issuing Resolutions number 2139 and 2254, to refer the Syrian file to the International Criminal Court, and to hold all those responsible for related crimes accountable including the Russian regime whose involvement in war crimes has been repeatedly proven.
The report also calls on the Security Council to reevaluate the level of risk of violations of human rights and its threat levels to international and regional peace and security, and to revert to Article Seven to protect humanitarian workers and facilities in Syria, to no longer classify the Syrian government as a legitimate official party in regard to any relief efforts after its perpetration of crimes against humanity, and to ensure that it is no longer supplied with large amounts of financial or any other relief, which largely fails to reach the intended beneficiaries, instead being given to the loyalists of the Syrian government.
The report urges the International Community to prepare for political, economic and military intervention to protect civilians in Syria and to protect medical facilities through an alliance outside the Security Council, following its repeated failure in Syria and the continuation of perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Syrian regime and its allies.
The report also calls on the United Nations to take steps under Chapter VII of its own Charter, while the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly, should be implemented. The Security Council is still actively obstructing the protection of civilians in Syria.
The report recommends that the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism should create a website containing a complete database of all facilities listed in the mechanism, with reference to the facilities that were targeted, even without specifying who is responsible for the bombing; this will help investigators in United Nations organs and relevant and specialized international and local organizations to cross-check this information with their database, so they can identify those responsible for the bombing.
The report calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) to clearly identify the perpetrators of violations and specifically those attacks perpetrated by Russian forces, noting that there is a great absence of any attribution of direct responsibility to Russian forces in recent reports.
The report further recommends that the OHCHR should issue reports and statements that clearly condemn the targeting of medical facilities that have recently occurred and identify the perpetrators, avoiding following the path pursued by the completely politicized Security Council, and should request from the humanitarian deconfliction mechanism all the data it possesses on the medical facilities listed in it.
The report calls on the Syrian regime to cease shelling of hospitals, protected objects and civilian areas, to respect customary humanitarian law, to bear all legal and material consequences, and to compensate the victims and their families from the resources of the Syrian state.
The report also calls on Russian forces to launch investigations into the incidents included in this report, to make the findings of these investigations public for the Syrian people, to hold those responsible accountable, to compensate, rebuild and reequip all damaged centers and facilities, and to compensate all families of the wounded and the victims killed by the current Russian regime, to completely cease the bombardment of hospitals and protected objects, and to respect customary humanitarian law.