86 Civilians Killed, Displacement Routes Bombed 9 Times, 3 IDP Camps Bombed, and a Massacre Committed During the Truce Declared by OCHA
In its latest report, released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states that many of the violations committed by Russian-Syrian alliance since December 15, 2019, in northwest Syria constitute war crimes.
The 23-page report explains that the military campaign led by Syrian-Russian alliance forces since April 26, 2019, is being carried out with the aim of controlling the area known as the “fourth de-escalation zone”. The report further notes that in Syria the term “de-escalation zone” has become a total inversion of the truth, with all the areas defined as such being the scenes of massive escalation in military operations, leading to the Syrian regime and Russia controlling these zones one after the other, a strategy they are currently reprising in the fourth and final de-escalation zone. The report adds that since April 2019 to date, Russian and Syria Regime forces have launched several brutal military campaigns, which resulted in the seizure of large areas estimated at almost 20 percent of the total area of the fourth de-escalation zone.
The report notes that despite convening sessions of the Constitutional Committee (the meetings of both Committee’s Small and Large Bodies), Russia and the Syrian regime continued with violent bombing attacks even during these sessions in an attempt to impose a fait accompli on the ground, to achieve the ultimate goal of military subjugation, to end any hope of political solution and maintain the rule of the Assad family’s regime by force.
The report also notes that during the few days directly before and after the fourteenth round of Astana Talks on Syria, the region witnessed an almost complete cessation of raids by the Russian and Syrian Air Forces, which lasted from December 8 to December 15. On December 15, however, the report documents the start of a new military campaign aimed at controlling Ma’aret al Numan city and its environs, in which, as the report states, Russian forces applied the same tactic they pursued in taking control of Khan Sheikhoun, which is ferocious carpet-bombing similar to the Grozny model by destroying as many civilians’ homes as possible, terrorizing the people and forcing them to surrender and leave.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“These days coincide with the third anniversary of the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians from the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo by Russian-Syrian alliance forces, and the alliance itself displaces the people of Ma’aret al Numan and its environs. Why would everyone who can escape do so, leaving behind his home, his belongings, his shop, except if he knows that all he can expect from these forces is humiliation, forced conscription, torture or death? Moreover, 95 percent of the total number of IDPs have not returned to their areas; Daraya, the Ghouta [round Damascus], and other areas controlled by these forces are still almost empty. It is impossible to imagine a safe and voluntary return of IDPs and refugees as long as the current regime remains in place and without a political change towards democracy and accountability taking place.”
The report outlines the record of the most notable human rights violations that have taken place as a result of the military escalation by Syrian-Russian alliance forces in northwest Syria in the 11 days between December 15 and December 26, 2019. It also highlights the recent wave of displacement from Ma’aret al Numan city and the targeting of the IDPs during their displacement by Syrian-Russian alliance forces, as well as providing the details of a massacre that occurred as a result of an aerial attack by Russian forces on an apparently randomly selected IDPs’ camp in Joubas village in the eastern suburbs of Idlib, after OCHA circulated a report of a humanitarian truce in the area.
In the context of Russian support to the Syrian regime, the report notes that Russia and China used their veto power on December 20, 2019, against the renewal of Security Council Resolution 2449, which requires that the United Nations be re-authorized to bring aid into Syria using border crossings not controlled by Syrian Regime forces, which will expire on January 10, 2020 ; according to the report, this will adversely affect the provision of desperately needed relief to tens of thousands of civilians who were displaced by the Russian and Syrian regimes’ bombardment. This also will leave the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs open to further extortion and theft by the Syrian regime, which is not willing or trustworthy with regard to distributing aid according to those who deserve it and to the most affected areas.
The report documents the deaths of 86 civilians, including 21 children, 18 women (adult female), and 42 massacres, in northwest Syria, in which Syrian Regime forces killed 42 civilians, including 10 children and 11 women, and committed four massacres, while Russian forces killed another 44 civilians, including 11 children and seven women, and committed two massacres.
The report reveals that at least 47 attacks were carried out on vital civilian facilities in areas of northwest Syria at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces during the period covered by the report, of which nine were on schools, two on medical facilities, 13 on places of worship, and six on markets, distributed to 38 incidents of attack at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, and nine at the hands of Russian forces.
The report adds that the Syrian Regime air force, using both fixed-wing warplanes and helicopters, dropped at least 248 barrel bombs between December 15 and December 26, 2019.
The report notes that Russian-Syrian alliance forces have obstructed the movement of IDPs, with the aim of further terrorizing them and subjecting them to more difficulties and additional humiliation. In most cases, these attacks occurred through warplanes strafing the main roads crowded with vehicles carrying tens of thousands of IDPs with machine guns. The report further notes that Russian-Syrian alliance forces targeted the main roads used by IDPs at least nine times in the 11-day period covered by the report, in addition to documenting at least three incidents in which Syrian-Russian alliance forces attacked random groups of tents sheltering IDPs.
The report stresses that Syrian and Russian forces have violated several rules of international humanitarian law, primarily through their failure to discriminate between civilians and combatants, and between civilian and military targets, bombing hospitals, schools, centers and civilian neighborhoods, with these violations amounting to war crimes.
The report also emphasizes that launching a deliberate attack on medical personnel in the context of a non-international armed conflict is a war crime punishable under international humanitarian law and international criminal law (Articles 8 (2) (b), 24, 8 (2) (e) (2) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court), with Russian and Syrian forces deliberately targeting medical personnel in a number of attacks.
The report further states that displacement or forced displacement is another war crime in non-international armed conflicts when committed as part of a deliberate or widespread attack against the civilian population (Articles 8 (2) (b) (7) and 8 (2) (e) (8) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court) and may also be considered crimes against humanity (Articles 7 (1) (d) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court).
The report 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 calls on the UN Envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of all these crimes and massacres and the main culprits in the collapse of agreements on de-escalation zones by name, and to re-sequence the peace process so that it can resume its natural course after Russia’s attempts to divert and distort it, empowering the Constitutional Committee prior to the establishment of a transitional governing body.
The report further calls on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to stabilize the ceasefire in Idlib and to include punitive measures for all violators of the cease-fire, to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court and to ensure that all those involved, including the Russian regime, are held accountable, having been implicated in committing war crimes.
The report also presents a set of recommendations to the international community, the UN General Assembly, the OHCHR, and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (CoI), as well as calling on the donor countries and the OCHA to ensure basic living conditions and to pay attention to the needs of and help provide care for thousands of displaced Syrians who are displaced in the north-western Idlib suburbs, with the most pressing basic needs, primarily water, food, housing, clothing and medical care.