At Least 79 Targeted Attacks on IDP Camps by the Syrian Regime and Its Russian Ally Within Eight Years
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states in its report released today, which addressed the attack of the Qahh Camp in north of Idlib, that the Syrian regime is the party most likely to have been responsible for the bombing of an IDP camp and the killing of 11 Syrian children.
The 16-page report explains that the de-escalation agreement of May 2017 and the Sochi Agreement of September 2018, both concerning the Idlib region, and the subsequent agreements, all lack any real implementation mechanisms that might deter the Syrian regime and its allies from continuing to commit violations against civilians and had no effect in stopping the daily killing machine that has claimed the lives of Syrians, with Russian and Syrian warplanes continuing to fly and bomb with impunity whenever and wherever they want.
The report notes that thousands of the internally displaced people forced to flee by the recent military operation launched by the Syria-Russian alliance forces since April 26, 2019, have been forced to seek refuge in the Atma camps area located in the northern suburbs of Idlib; this is a grouping of large camps first established at the end of 2012 which has gradually expanded since then. As the report reveals, there are now nearly half a million people living in these camps, half of whom are children and women, who live in the most abject living conditions and are deprived of the bare minimum of basic services such as water, bathing facilities, and medical care services; their suffering is exacerbated by a scarcity of humanitarian aid and irregular access of aid providers to the camps. In parallel with this catastrophic humanitarian situation, civilians in these camps live under the continuous threat of death due to the Syrian-Russian attacks that followed them to the place of their displacement.
The report describes the situation in which the Syrian regime has pursued the Syrians whose displacement it caused, along with its allies, through the violations they have committed, meaning that, as the report notes, the regime hasn’t only bombed and destroyed its victims’ homes and enacted legislation legalizing the theft of their remaining property and lands, but is pursuing, terrorizing and killing these traumatized civilians even in the camps where they are living in conditions of wretched deprivation.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“This incident proves once again to all the countries of the world that the Syrian regime constitutes a flagrant threat to the IDPs, and is the main reason behind the continued flow of refugees and their fear of return and settlement even in the areas it does not control, through continuous bombardment that hasn’t spared even children in the camps. Despite all this savagery and barbarism, we hear calls from institutions and research centers that justify resuming normal relations with the Syrian regime, rather than demanding its accountability to prepare for the political transition and voluntary and sustainable return.”
The report sheds light on the cluster munitions attack launched by Syrian regime and Iranian militias on the Qahh IDP Camp in northern suburbs of Idlib, relies on first-hand accounts that SNHR has collected through speaking directly with witnesses or survivors, none of which are cited from any open sources, and outlines seven accounts, in addition to analyzing a large number of videos and photographs.
As the report reveals, the attack took place on the evening of Wednesday, November 20, 2019, between 19:45 and 20:20, when Syrian Regime forces and pro-Syrian regime Iranian militias, which SNHR believes were stationed in Jabal Azan area in the southern suburbs of Aleppo, used a missile platform to fire a Tochka 9M79 missile loaded with 9n24 cluster submunitions that fell on Qahh IDP Camp, resulting in the deaths of 16 civilians, including 11 children and three women (adult female), and injured at least 50 others, as well as inflicting damage on the Maternity Hospital, and damaging at least 10 of the tents.
The report further reveals that the attack caused the displacement of approximately 80 percent of the already displaced camp residents, who fled due to their fear of the camp being subjected to further attacks. As of the date of publication of this report, SNHR has recorded only a small percentage of these people returning to the camp.
The report outlines the type of ammunitions used in this attack based on a review and analysis of photos of the weapons remnants found at the site, information from witnesses, and the impact of the destruction caused by the attack, noting that Tochka-9M79 tactical ballistic Russian manufactured missiles were used, launched by a 9P129 vehicle. The report identifies four possible locations which are most likely to have been the location of the missile launcher that launched the missiles, noting that the most likely source for launching these missiles was launcher platforms located in the Jabal Azan area in the southern suburbs of Aleppo according to accounts and witnesses.
As the report explains, these missiles can be equipped with different warheads, including cluster, chemical or nuclear warheads. In the Qahh Camp attack, SNHR was able to verify through witness accounts and the analysis of photos and videos that the missile was equipped with a 9N123K warhead loaded with a total of around fifty 9N24 cluster submunitions.
The report reveals that there have been at least 12 attacks carried out by Syrian Regime forces, in which Tochka-series missiles were used, with the missiles being loaded with cluster submunitions in at least three of these cases.
The report notes that the Syrian regime’s reconnaissance aircrafts had been flying over the camp for several days prior to the attack, which indicates that the Syrian regime is fully aware of the civilian nature of its target and the camps’ occupants; in addition to this, regime forces chose to use cluster munitions to carry out this bombing, meaning that the attack constitutes a compound crime.
The report documents at least 79 attacks on IDP camps carried out by Syrian-Russian alliance forces since March 2011 up until this latest attack on Qahh Camp. Sixty-one of these attacks were carried out by the Syrian regime, while Russian forces carried out the other 18. Among these attacks, the report documents 11 on IDP camps during the recent military campaign launched by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces since April 26, 2019.
The report further reveals that at least 487 cluster munitions attacks took place since the first documented use of these munitions in July 2012 up to November 20, 2019, with 243 of these attacks carried out at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, and another 236 being by Russian forces, with an additional eight attacks being Syrian-Russian operations.
The report stresses that Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance forces have undoubtedly violated UN Security Council Resolutions 2139 and 2254 which demanded the cessation of indiscriminate attacks, in addition to violating a wide range of customary international humanitarian law rules, and also violating articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute by committing intentional homicide, all of which crimes constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The report also notes that the incidents of bombardment have incidentally caused civilian casualties, including injuries, as well as causing significant damage to civilian objects. There are very strong indications suggesting that the damage was extremely excessive in comparison to the intended military benefit, with the attacks failing to discriminate between civilians and combatants in most cases. Also, it seems that some of the attacks appear to have deliberately targeted vital facilities and civilian areas.
The report further notes that the report issued by the delegates to the 2005 Summit states unanimously that each country had a responsibility to protect its population from crimes against humanity and war crimes. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, the prevention of incitement to commit them by all possible means, and, when the state clearly fails to protect its population from egregious crimes, or itself is committing such crimes as in the case of the Syrian regime, means that it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene to take protective measures in a collective, decisive and timely manner.
The report stresses that the bombardment of the IDP camps and civilian gatherings has spread further terror and fear among already traumatized displaced persons and has grossly exacerbated their disastrous humanitarian situation, which is already suffering from a deterioration in terms of the initial humanitarian response.
The report calls on the UN special envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of crimes and massacres, to hold those who are primarily responsible for obstructing the political process to account, and to re-sequence the peace process so that it can resume its natural course after Russia’s attempts to divert and distort it, through empowering the Constitutional Committee prior to the establishment of a transitional governing body. The report also stresses the importance of demanding that the Syrian regime, its Russian ally, and opposition factions end all violations and secure good faith measures by stopping the bombing and at the very least disclosing the fate of the forcibly disappeared persons.
The report additionally calls on the Security Council to take additional steps following its adoption of Resolution 2254, which clearly insists that “all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such,” and stresses the importance of referring the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court, adding that all those who are responsible should be held accountable including the Russian regime whose involvement in war crimes has been repeatedly proven.
The report stresses the need to ensure peace and security and to implement the principle of Responsibility to Protect civilians’ lives and to save the Syrian people’s heritage and historical artefacts from destruction, looting and vandalism, calling on all relevant United Nations agencies to make greater efforts to provide food, medical and humanitarian assistance in areas where fighting has ceased, and in internally displaced persons camps, and to follow up with those States that have pledged voluntary contributions.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to adopt a special resolution banning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, similar to its prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and to provide advice on how to remove the unexploded ordnance of such dangerous weapons.
The report asserts that Russia’s permanent membership in the Security Council must not prevent the Council’s efforts to hold Russia accountable, warning that if it does so, the body will lose its remaining credibility.
The report further states that the use of cluster munitions by the Syrian regime threatens the security and safety of tens of thousands of members of Syrian society, adding that the Security Council must immediately and urgently intervene to protect the Syrian people from the attacks by the ruling authority, which constitute war crimes, and must send peace-keeping forces to protect the IDPs and their camps from attacks by Syrian Regime forces.
In light of the split within the Security Council and its utter inability to take any effective action, the report stresses the need to take action at the national and regional levels to form alliances to support the Syrian people by protecting them from daily killing and by lifting sieges, as well as by increasing support for relief efforts. Additionally, it states, the principle of universal jurisdiction should be enacted in local courts regarding these crimes in order to conduct fair trials for all those who were involved.
The report calls for the resort to Chapter VII and urges the implementation of the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly. The report also calls for renewed pressure on the Security Council to refer the case in Syria to the International Criminal Court, to work on fulfilling justice and achieving accountability in Syria through the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, and to activate the principle of universal jurisdiction.
The report calls on the OHCHR to submit a report to the Human Rights Council and other organs of the United Nations on the violations mentioned in this report and in previous reports since these violations were perpetrated by the parties to the conflict, to train Syrian organizations to undertake clearance of mines and other unexploded ordnance, to raise local awareness of the dangers of such ordnance, and to establish a platform that brings together a number of Syrian organizations active in documenting violations and humanitarian assistance, in order to facilitate an exchange of skills and experiences within Syrian society.
The report recommends that the State friends of the Syrian people should refuse to consider the Russian government as a party to the dialogue and political transition in Syria if it continues to insist on committing widespread and systematic violations against the Syrian people; such violations could not be any more flagrant than the repeated use of cluster munitions which provides blatant evidence of its violations.
The report stresses the urgent need for the Russian government to immediately end the production of cluster munitions and to stop using them in Syria, adding that it should start destroying its stockpiles of these weapons, and should accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Cluster Munitions. The report also calls on the Russian government to investigate all violations listed in the report, to publish detailed maps of locations where cluster munition attacks have been launched, to provide these to the United Nations, and to inform the Syrian community about them, thus facilitating the disposal of unexploded ordnance.
The report also stresses that the Syrian regime must stop violating the Syrian constitution by killing Syrian citizens, destroying their homes and disappearing and torturing tens of thousands of them, and end its indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, as well as ending the use of outlawed weapons and barrel bombs, ending the acts of torture that have caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian citizens in detention centers, and complying with UN Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law and the Syrian constitution and law.