Looting Documented in Nearly 30 Areas Since April 2019, Constituting a War Crime
The Syrian Network for Human Rights reveals in its report released today that widespread looting by Syrian and Iranian regime forces in and around Idlib threatens the return of the displaced people and is sowing religious hatred, with the report documenting the looting of nearly 30 areas since April 2019 to date, which constitutes a war crime.
The 11-page report notes that whenever Syrian Regime forces and Iranian militias advance towards civilian areas outside these forces’ control with the intention of storming them, more than 98 percent of the total population of these areas flee in terror of being subjected to reprisals by these forces; despite the severe winter cold and the absence of tents and basic necessities of life in the areas they’re fleeing to, residents have explained that they decide to flee, because the terrible difficulties and challenges that they will face as internally displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees are far less dangerous than falling into the clutches of the Syrian regime and its allies.
The report outlines the looting operations carried out by Syrian Regime forces, Iranian foreign militias, and local militias, who are effectively plundering and pillaging the possessions of those who fled in terror of their brutality in areas they had regained control of since April 2019, as well as since December 2019, noting that the documentation of these operations is part of a broader documentation and report process that we have been working on for nearly nine months on seizing houses, whose owners have left and been displaced in many areas across Syria.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The Syrian regime has issued hundreds of thousands of charges against activists who demanded political change in Syria, including the use of special courts such as the counter-terrorism court or the military or field court, with the aim of confiscating and controlling their property, and detained all those it managed to arrest, with most of them subsequently being classified as forcibly disappeared persons, greatly increasing the impossibility of their properties being restored to them or their families. In addition, the Syrian regime didn’t just carry out these crimes, but directed its forces to loot the contents of seized properties such as furniture and electronics before taking control of them, making any stability or return for the displaced impossible in light of the survival of the current regime, and further underscoring the need for political change towards democracy before any stability can be established.”
The report stresses in this context that it is inconceivable that such widespread looting could take place in isolation or without attracting the attention of the leaders of the Syrian army and Russian forces, noting that the monies made from this looting and pillaging of properties is essentially classified as unofficially forming part of the monthly income of the Syrian, Iranian and Russian regime forces; this willful selective blindness by the regime and its allies, according to the report, is why these crimes can be carried out in in such a blatant manner, with their troops and militias literally stripping homes of everything, not only furniture and electrical goods but even windows and doors, sanitary fixtures and electrical wire. The vast majority of the Syrian regime’s army, from the most senior officers downwards are all very well aware of their forces’ looting operations. The report further notes that the public sales of the stolen property take place openly at ‘tafeesh’ markets established for this purpose in areas controlled by the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian allies, with large quantities of stolen furniture, electrical equipment, agricultural implements, and livestock for sale in these markets.
Since April 2019, the report has documented that about 30 villages and towns in the northern suburbs of Hama, the southern suburbs of Idlib, and the western suburbs of Aleppo have been subjected to robberies and looting of property by Syrian Regime forces and affiliated Iranian militias. The report notes that these stolen goods and property are being sold in the markets of al Sqailbiya town in Hama suburbs. As the report states, this is reminiscent of what was recorded previously in 2012 and 2013 when the Syrian regime’s militiamen opened similar markets to sell goods they’d looted there after taking control of the cities of Homs and Hama.
The report notes that other parties to the Syrian conflict have also carried out looting of areas they have taken control of, as with the forces of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (Syrian Democratic Forces / PYD), extremist Islamist groups (ISIS and al Nusra), and factions of the Armed Opposition, although the scale of the looting carried out by the Syrian, Iranian and Russian regime forces remains by a long way the most widespread and systematic, according to the report.
The report details some of the laws and decrees enacted by the Syrian regime to legalize its confiscation of properties after looting them, noting that the Syrian regime, through its absolute hegemony over all organs of the state, including the People’s Assembly, uses the People’s Assembly to enact legislation that legitimizes crime and gives legal endorsement to theft and looting by authorizing them in the form of unjust laws. In essence, these articles of legislation are merely executive tools to strip citizens of their homes and rights.
According to the report, the most prominent of the relevant laws and decrees are: Law 63 of 2012, Decree 66 of 2012, Decree 19 of 2015, Decrees 11 and 12 of 2016, Decree 3 of 2018, Law No. 10 of 2018, amended to the Law 42 of 2018. The report stresses that the expropriation and theft of properties through enactment of legislation that fundamentally violates and disregards international human rights law constitutes a major obstacle to the return of refugees and IDPs, amounting to enforced evictions and to an effort to manipulate demographics and social structures. If the current ruling authorities continue to govern Syria, there will be no security and no return of refugees, in light of the continuing presence of such medieval practices and laws.
The report further notes that while it focuses on the period since the outbreak of the popular uprising against the ruling family in Syria in March 2011, the regime is also responsible for innumerable cases of state plunder and theft of property prior to this, against entire cities, as happened after the events of Hama city in February 1982. In addition, the report refers to the violations committed against the Kurds, with the 1962 census stripping hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurdish citizens of citizenship, preventing them from owning or transferring property; This racial discrimination against Kurds continued for 30 years during the reign of the Baath Party regime up until just after the popular uprising in March 2011, when the regime started granting some Kurds Syrian citizenship. However, according to the report, thousands of Kurds are still deprived of citizenship to date, with this decades-long denial of citizenship to Kurds preventing them from owning or transferring property.
The report stresses that customary international law prohibits pillage according to Rule 52 and Rule 111, as does international criminal law (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 8-2 b-16 and 8-2-e-5). Looting therefore amounts to a serious violation of international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime, as established by the statutes and judgments of the Nuremberg and Tokyo military Tribunals, as well as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, with the looting also associated with smashing up whatever could not be looted, then burning the houses.
As the report states, through its widespread pillaging, the Syrian regime, with clear support from its Iranian and Russian allies, has violated the Geneva Conventions, with the looting in a large number of areas taking the form of widespread destruction or seizure of property not justified by military necessity, and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.
The report calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to document the widespread looting by Syrian Regime forces in cooperation with Iranian militias, and to issue a special report or statement condemning these operations and clarifying their risk to the return of IDPs and refugees.
The report also presents a set of recommendations to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the UN Special Envoy to Syria, and to the international community, as well as calling on the Syrian regime to end its indiscriminate shelling, terrorizing and displacing of the population, to stop the widespread looting carried out by its forces, and to hold those responsible for these violations accountable through full prosecution.