Four Cluster Munition Attacks Documented Since the Start of the Last Offensive in December 2019, Two of Which Were Against Schools
In its latest report released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals that the Syrian regime has used cluster munitions several times against residential neighborhoods in and around Idlib governorate, noting that the use of these weapons constitutes war crimes. The report documents four cluster munition attacks since the start of the latest offensive in December 2019, two of which were against schools.
The 13-page report makes reference to the SNHR database that contains numerous reports documenting cluster munitions attacks launched by Syrian-Russian alliance forces, including details of the incidents documented, such as the dates, times and location of the attacks, the toll of the dead and injured, and the types of munition used, with SNHR having monitored most of the types of missiles and shells used and the type of submunitions contained in them, as well as having determined the number of these submunitions contained in every type of cluster munition; this exhaustive documentation means we have acquired a detailed understanding of the number of submunitions dispersed in these attacks in Syria, their distribution areas and the areas that were subjected to the largest scale of attacks. The SNHR database has been created through contact with eyewitnesses and survivors of attacks, as well as through building up a massive collection of photos and videos, in addition to other evidence.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“Because the Syrian regime has been immune from accountability due to its Russian ally’s status as a permanent member of the Security Council, the door is open for it to use whatever weapons it desires in an internationally prohibited manner against populated areas. The children and people of Syria have suffered hundreds of cases of limb amputation and disability because of the cluster munitions use by Syrian/Russian regime forces on a horrendous scale and intensity and over large areas; we are in the process of creating a comprehensive map illustrating the locations of all these uses of cluster munitions in order to warn civilians and children of their presence.”
The report highlights the terrible reality of the use of cluster munitions in the northwest region of Syria since the start of the most recent military escalation which has affected several areas, villages and towns in the suburbs of Idlib and Aleppo, and has caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people since December 1, 2019, up to February 25, 2020. The report also includes the record of the use of cluster munitions by Syrian-Russian alliance forces since the first documented use of these munitions in July 2012 until February 25, 2020.
The report details the nature of cluster munitions which consist of hollow weapons designed to explode in the air and disperse large numbers of bomblets or submunitions over a large area; these bomblets are lethal in their implications, which go beyond the era of war and conflict. In addition to the victims killed as a result of the explosion of cluster munitions at the time of the attack, between approximately ten and 40 percent of these munitions remain unexploded, turning them into live landmines that kill or maim civilians, with hundreds of shrapnel pieces penetrating the bodies of those injured, and potentially leading to a need for amputation of limbs, damage to bodily organs, and rupturing of veins and arteries.
The report notes that these remnants, which are still extensively widespread across Syria, constitute a major obstacle to the return of displaced persons and the movement of aid workers and Civil Defense rescue personnel and their vehicles, as well as constituting a threat to the process of reconstruction and development.
The report records at least 492 cluster munition attacks between the first documented use of these weapons in July 2012 and February 25, 2020. The Syrian regime carried out 248 of these attacks, while Russian forces carried out a further 236 attacks, and eight attacks were carried out by Russian/ Syrian forces without accurately specifying the responsible party. The report notes that these cluster munition attacks launched by the Syrian-Russian alliance resulted in the deaths of 1,030 civilians, including 382 children and 217 women (adult female), and also caused injuries to approximately 4,350 civilians, many of whom have undergone amputations of limbs and require prosthetic limbs and a series of rehabilitation and support operations as a result.
The report also reveals that at least 357 civilians, including 107 children and 31 women (adult female) were killed as a result of the explosion of submunitions left over from previous cluster munition attacks.
The report notes that the objective of Syrian-Russian alliance forces in using cluster munitions is to completely paralyze life in the areas under attack. Meanwhile, civilians living in areas affected by cluster attacks will not be able to live in safety until the lethal bomblet remnants of these munitions in the areas around their homes, and in their streets, markets and farmlands are identified and completely cleared. Therefore, most of the residents of areas that are targeted by cluster attacks are subjected to forced displacement due to the impossibility of life and maintaining a feasible livelihood in these areas.
The report stresses that the violent military attacks using various munitions, primarily cluster munitions, and the military advance of Syrian-Russian alliance forces on the ground, are the most prominent causes of forced displacement which has affected more than 900,000 people since December 1, 2019, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The report documents at least four cluster munition attacks between December 1, 2019, and February 25, 2020, carried out by Syrian Regime forces in Idlib governorate. These attacks have resulted in the deaths of 12 civilians, including seven children and two women (adult female), and injured 27 civilians, including two attacks which targeted educational facilities and caused injuries to students and teachers.
The report stresses that the use of cluster munitions by Syrian Regime forces led by Lieutenant General Bashar al Assad, as well as by Russian forces, violates both the principles of distinction and proportionality in international humanitarian law and is considered a war crime, noting that cluster munitions have been used by Syrian Regime forces against civilian targets, rather than being directed at serving a specific military purpose, and thus that these attacks constitute war crimes.
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, to provide advice on how to remove the remnants of such dangerous weapons, and to immediately and urgently intervene to protect the Syrian people from such attacks by the ruling authority, which constitute war crimes.
The report also presents a set of recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council, the International Commission of Inquiry (COI), the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as calling on the Russian government to immediately end the production of cluster munitions and stop using them in Syria, to start destroying its stockpiles of these weapons, and to accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Cluster Munitions, to publish detailed maps of locations where cluster munition attacks have been launched.
Finally, the report recommends that the United Nations Children’s Fund should explain the danger of the Syrian regime and its Russian ally’s use of cluster munitions to the Syrian people’s children, today and in the future.