Russia Can’t Be Trusted in Any Political or Reconstruction Process After Committing Hundreds of War Crimes, and Hasn’t Apologized or Compensated Any Victims
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states in its latest report, released on the fourth anniversary of the start of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, that Russia can’t be trusted in any political or reconstruction process after committing hundreds of war crimes, and hasn’t apologized or compensated any of its victims.
The 40-page report reveals a number of fallacies and blatant lies being marketed by the Russian Ministry of Defense, noting that Russia denies any bombing of hospitals or Civil Defense facilities, targeting of residential neighborhoods, or involvement in establishing political initiatives aimed at restoring the regime’s long-lost legitimacy and enabling the dynastic dictatorship ruling Syria to rule for more decades even after it has committed tens of thousands of crimes against humanity. Instead, all the statements and media reports issued by or on behalf of Russian authorities claim that Russia is engaged solely in killing terrorists and assisting the Syrian people, that it has shown no favoritism towards the Assad family, and that its forces are fully bound by international law.
The report analyzes the data of the Russian Ministry of Defense, noting that it repeatedly announces its operations and the results of its airstrikes in the most general and indeterminate of terms, claiming that it has killed thousands of terrorist militants, without specifying the areas and neighborhoods where this supposedly happened, and without mentioning or identifying the terrorist organization in question and the locations under its control.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the SNHR, says:
“We cannot trust any political settlement process sponsored or supervised by Russia, which has, since the early days, supported the Syrian regime in its brutal operations and crimes against humanity, enabling these by 13 UN vetoes. The first veto was on October 4, 2011, that is, before the emergence of any local or extremist military organization, as well as through support for the regime with arms and experts, and finally, through direct military intervention, bombardment and killing alongside Syrian Regime forces, Russia is implicated in war crimes and must apologize for these crimes, then repair what it destroyed, compensate the victims, and stop supporting the dynastic dictatorship of one family in Syria; after that, political transition towards democracy, human rights and the reconstruction and stability of Syria and its society can be discussed.”
The report mentions a typically misleading statement published by the Russian Ministry of Defense in which the ministry claimed that approximately 650,000 Syrians had returned to Syria from countries of asylum, and a further approximately 1.3 million IDPs had returned to their homes, while failing to mention that the latest brutal Russian operations in northwestern Syria have displaced more than 630,000 people. As for its military operations along the entire Astana route, Russia is directly responsible for the displacement of most of the population from areas of Eastern Ghouta, southern Syria and, more recently, areas in northwestern Syria, with the report estimating the total number of people internally displaced as a result of Russian attacks and disregard for de-escalation agreements is at least 3.3 million.
The report notes that while Russia has regularly declared its intention to withdraw its troops from Syria, the reality on the ground is completely at odds with these claims, with Russian forces continuously strengthening their military presence in the country and gradually dominating the capabilities of the Syrian state, particularly in light of the current ruling authorities in Syria, which care only for the survival of the current dynastic family rule in Syria even if this survival costs the destruction of the Syrian state and the killing and displacement of millions of Syrians.
Russia, as the report states, has not contributed to providing any tangible material support for the restoration of the facilities and buildings it bombed, nor has it received any significant number of Syrian refugees, or declared its willingness to participate in the resettlement operations, including for individuals loyal to the Syrian regime, who did not seek refuge in Russia at all, but instead fled to Turkey, Lebanon and European nations. Also, the Russian government has not expressed any willingness to contribute to alleviating refugees’ suffering or to host a number of them to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The report also draws attention to the hired propagandists and pro-Russian journalists who have attacked and slandered the Syrian Network for Human Rights, with their reports largely being published in little-known Kremlin-affiliated ‘yellow and black’ sites; Russian media then cite and promote these reports and host the pro-Kremlin journalists to promote their work on better-known Russian websites.
The report analyzes the Russian forces’ strategy in the fourth year, which has been concentrated on the last de-escalation zone areas located in the northwest of Syria, noting that the frequency of violations by Russian forces decreased in the fourth year of their intervention compared to previous years, and revealing the reasons behind the decrease of the frequency of these violations. The report explains that the extent of the areas targeted with bombardment and killings has decreased compared to previous years, after the Syrian regime, supported by Russian forces, took control of most areas. The report also reveals that in the last three months, Russian forces have reduced the frequency of those air strikes for which responsibility can be assigned firmly to them, instead strengthening their presence on the ground and relying on ground attacks, making it extreme difficulty for the SNHR researchers to determine the nationality of the perpetrators of these attacks, and therefore to assign responsibility for certain attacks to Russian forces.
The report further notes that the reduced frequency of Russian combat operations has taken place at the expense of increased Iranian influence in the region; it appears that Russian forces may have refrained from involvement in some attacks in favor of unleashing Iranian militias instead, and it seems probable that the aim of this policy is to show that Russian forces are acting in compliance the Sochi Agreement, as if to demonstrate Russia’s respect for the Turkish observation points.
In this context, the report notes that the Russian forces have maintained a consistent pattern throughout the four years in their targeting of medical facilities and Civil Defense centers in particular, single-mindedly identifying and tracking these facilities through intelligence operations in order to bomb and destroy them.
The report suggests that, based on the available evidence, it seems clear that Russia supported the establishment of the Astana process with the clear aim of extending control over areas outside the Syrian regime’s control one by one, adding that it failed to respect any agreement or truce. From the earliest stages of the Astana Agreement, it became clear that Russia intended to control all the de-escalation zones but that it wanted to do so as part of a political process that avoided the policies previously agreed on in Geneva to ensure that the rest of the world and the international community would not object to or oppose it, as though the negotiations and the progress of the Syrian crisis remained under the terms agreed at Geneva.
The report also outlines the ways in which the de-escalation agreements collapsed in the Eastern Ghouta, the northern suburbs of Homs and the southern region.
The report stresses that Russian forces continue to support the regime in Syria militarily, in tandem with providing political support through using 13 vetoes to date at the UN Security Council, and in terms of human rights via always voting against all resolutions of the Human Rights Council, and against any extension to the work of the International Commission of Inquiry in Syria, opposing the establishment of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, and opposing the work of the Chemical Disarmament Commission, in addition to supplying the Syrian regime with weapons and military equipment.
The report reveals that the Russian regime considers Syria a real and effective ‘training ground’ for testing weapons manufactured by Russian companies rather than testing these in empty areas within Russia. The Russian regime has not been shy about repeatedly announcing its testing of weapons on Syrian soil.
The report documents the deaths of 6,686 civilians, including 1,928 children and 908 women, at the hands of Russian forces since the start of Russia’s military intervention in Syria up until September 30, 2019. The report also includes the distribution of the record of victims by year, with the first two years of the intervention seeing the largest death toll of victims, noting that the distribution of the toll of victims across the governorates, where Aleppo governorate saw the largest record of toll of victims, followed by Idlib then Deir Ez-Zour.
The report also documents at least 335 massacres committed by Russian forces, and at least 1,083 attacks on vital civilian facilities, including 201 on schools and 190 on medical facilities, since the start of their military intervention in Syria up until September 30, 2019.
As the report reveals, Russian forces killed 107 medical and Civil Defense personnel, in addition to 21 media workers.
The report also cites statistics on the use of cluster munitions by Russian forces, which amounted to at least 236 attacks, in addition to 125 attacks with incendiary weapons carried out by Russian forces since their military intervention in Syria.
As the report explains, the escalating violence practiced by Russian forces has had the largest impact in terms of exodus and forced displacement, as Russian attacks, in parallel with the attacks carried out by the Syrian-Iranian alliance, have resulted in the displacement of approximately 3.3 million people.
Between September 30, 2018, and September 30, 2019, the report documents the deaths of 447 civilians, including 79 children, 51 women (adult female), 15 medical personnel, and two media workers, at the hands of Russian forces, who also committed at least 14 massacres and at least 129 attacks on vital civilian facilities.
The report stress that the Russian regime is unarguably implicated in supporting the Syrian regime, which has committed crimes against humanity against the Syrian people, by providing it with weapons and military expertise and with giving it immunity from accountability through use of the UN veto, as well as through direct military intervention alongside it. The support of a regime implicated in crimes against humanity constitutes a clear violation of international law and makes the Russian regime vulnerable to accountability.
The report also stresses that the Russian regime has unquestionably violated the UN Security Council Resolutions No. 2139 and 2254 ordering the cessation of indiscriminate attacks, as well as violating Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute by committing intentional homicide, all of which constitute crimes against humanity, noting that the bombardment has targeted unarmed civilians. Therefore, the report concludes, Russian forces have clearly violated the rules of customary international human rights law, which protect the right to life.
The recommendations include calling on the Security Council to take additional steps after Resolution 2254 was adopted, to refer the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court, and to hold all those implicated accountable.
The report urges the international community to form an international civilized coalition outside the Security Council to protect civilians in Syria from Russian and Syrian regime attacks free from Russia’s automatic veto.
The report also calls on the international community to expand the politico-economic and economic sanctions against the Russian regime for committing war crimes in Syria, for continuing to violate sanctions imposed against the Syrian regime, and for assisting it in breaching UN Security Council resolutions, including on non-recurrence of using chemical weapons and barrel bombs.
In addition, the report calls on for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect (R2P)’ norm 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. As such, 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 calls on the Russian regime to stop committing all types of war crimes in Syria, to reconstruct what has been destroyed by the Russian war machine, to compensate the victims financially and morally, to apologize publicly, and to stop supporting the war crimes and crimes against humanity that the Syrian regime has been committing for eight years, with the report considering Russia to be directly involved in these crimes.
The report notes that the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) reports issued since 2017 up until the last report have failed to assign responsibility to the Russian forces for incidents and violations it committed, except in the cases of only two incidents, urging the COI to clearly identify criminals as clearly as it did in its initial reports.
The report recommends that the OHCHR should submit a report to the Human Rights Council and other UN organs on the incidents included in this report, since these were carried out by forces we believe were Russian in coordination with government forces, and should clearly name the perpetrators of violations, especially those by Russian forces, after they bombed dozens of medical facilities and Civil Defense centers, and urges these bodies not to be fearful of exposing such practices.
The report calls on the Russian regime to stop supporting the current Syrian regime, to apologize to the Syrian people for all violations committed by Russian forces, and to support a genuine political transition away from the dynastic dictatorship of one family and its brutal security services, stressing that this is the only way to achieve security, stability and reconstruction. It further urges the Russian regime to launch an investigation into the incidents included in this report, to make the findings of those investigations public to the Syrian people, to hold those who were involved accountable, to compensate all the damaged centers and facilities, rehabilitate them, and to pay reparations to all the families of the wounded and the victims who were killed by the present Russian regime.
The report urges the European States and the European Union to impose economic sanctions on Russia in light of the war crimes it has perpetrated in Syria, and to support recently displaced victims in northwestern Syria, mainly through providing drinking and usable water, with more than 1.6 million Syrians currently in urgent need of assistance after Russian and Syrian Regime forces began launching violent attacks on these areas since April 2019 which have continued up to the current date.