(Link below to download full report)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its latest report that the Syrian regime is actively appointing military leaders involved in crimes against humanity and war crimes to the highest levels of civilian leadership in the state.
The five-page report outlines a brief background on the SNHR’s database of individuals believed to be involved in committing violations in Syria. As the report states, this database contains details on at least 14,737 individuals who are believed to be involved in committing one or more types of violations, with the vast majority of these people working under the auspices of the Syrian regime and its allies.
As the report notes, this database’s inclusion of individuals whom SNHR believes to be involved in practicing violations relies on the identification of the relevant rules of customary humanitarian law in holding commanders and other senior officials responsible for war crimes committed by their subordinates pursuant to their orders, meaning that they should be held accountable if they knew, or had reason to know, that these subordinates were about to commit or were committing such crimes and failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures in their power to prevent their commission, or if such crimes had been committed, to punish the persons responsible. The report notes that the International Criminal Court Statute expands the elements of this responsibility to include crimes against humanity, which are committed in time of peace or war, and war crimes. This law also holds military commanders in addition to senior officials, including civilians, responsible for this.
The report also notes that the various institutions of the Syrian regime have been involved in committing widespread and systematic violations, many of which constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, with everyone who ordered, incited, encouraged, justified, participated, provided assistance in or facilitated those crimes considered to be involved in them; at the forefront of these institutions are those of the army and the security bodies.
The report refers to the five decrees issued by the President of the Syrian regime, in which he dismissed and replaced the incumbent governors in five Syrian governorates, namely Homs, Daraa, Suwayda, Quneitra, and Hasaka; among the figures appointed to take over in these positions was Major General Ghassan Halim Khalil, who was appointed governor of Hasaka.
As the report reveals, Ghassan Halim Khalil worked as Head of the State Security services’ infamous ‘255’ Information Branch during the period between 2010-2013; this branch incorporates a number of important sections, such as those dealing with religions, political parties, and monitoring of local and international media and Internet websites, in addition to being engaged in activities to support and promote pro-Syrian regime websites that justify the regime’s violations. The report notes that in 2013, Ghassan Khalil was appointed Head of the External Branch, Branch 279, and in 2017, he was appointed as an assistant director of the State Security Department. He also supervised the regime’s so-called ‘Syrian Electronic Army’, which carries out hacking operations and sabotage against websites and pages opposing the Syrian regime, and tracks journalists and activists with the aim of arresting and torturing them. He is also one of the individuals included in the European, Canadian and the UK sanctions lists.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime works to keep all military and civilian leadership positions in the hands of its accomplices in committing crimes against humanity and war crimes so that their fate is always linked to the regime’s fate in an organic, interconnected manner, meaning that defending it becomes an essential part of defending themselves.
The report also reveals that the leadership positions within the security services and the army are mainly based on first: Absolute blind loyalty to the Syrian regime, including the commission of atrocious violations against the Syrian citizens and state, which violate International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law, and often violate the current Syrian constitution; second: Sectarian discrimination in favor of the Alawite sect, from which the vast majority of the leaders of the security services and the army come, which the report notes is a form of blatant discrimination on the basis of sectarianism which violates the most basic tenets of International Human Rights Law as well as violating the Syrian constitution itself; and third: Appointments have been made in the Syrian state with the aim of placating Iran’s and Russia’s leaders in order to serve their interests in the army, security forces, civilian positions, science research centers, ports, and crossings, as the report reveals.
The report considers that the state is responsible for violations of International Humanitarian Law attributed to it, which are committed by its apparatuses or individuals affiliated with it, noting that there has been no documentation of any form of accountability or investigation by the Syrian regime of atrocities committed by its security services or army institution, or of its bombardment of cities and residential neighborhoods. The report further notes that the regime has also signally failed to undertake any compensation process for the material and human losses caused by its forces, but has instead reshuffled those officials involved in committing violations, reappointing them once again to senior positions in state authorities, which further confirms, as the report states, that the Syrian regime is proceeding with its customary authoritarian mentality of absolute totalitarian rule comprehensively rejecting any political transfer or movement towards a system featuring genuine democracy and human rights for Syria’s people.
The report calls on the security branches, the army, and political leaders in the Syrian regime to stop issuing orders that violate International Human Rights Law or International Humanitarian Law, to forbid the occurrence of violations, to punish subordinates who commit violations of International Human Rights Law or International Humanitarian Law, and to take all measures to prevent the occurrence of violations, in addition to educating subordinates about their basic obligations in accordance with International Human Rights Law or International Humanitarian Law. The report further emphasizes the need for Syrian regime personnel to refuse to commit gross violations even if they are ordered to do so by superiors in senior leadership positions, and to try to find all possible methods to avoid joining the ranks of the security services or the army because doing so would almost inevitably lead to involvement in the perpetration of atrocious violations.
The report recommends that United Nations should accelerate its efforts to accomplish the political transition process within a strict timetable not exceeding six months, in order to prevent the Syrian regime and its allies from practicing more encroachment into all state organs and institutions and linking the fate of the state and its institutions to the regime’s own fate. The report also urges the United Nations to work to send clear messages on the topic of accountability to those involved in gross violations, especially crimes against humanity and war crimes, to not provide an illusory pretense of stability at the expense of justice and accountability, and to put serious pressure on the Syrian regime to stop appointing those involved in crimes against humanity and war crimes to leadership positions in the state.