At Least 29,375 Children Have Been Killed in Syria Since March 2011, Including 179 Due to Torture, 4,261 Forcibly Disappeared, Hundreds of Recruits, and Hundreds of Thousands of Forcibly Displaced
(Link below to download full report)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has today issued its ninth annual report on violations against children in Syria. The report, issued to mark the UN’s annual World Children’s Day, reveals that at least 29,375 children have been killed in Syria since March 2011, including 179 due to torture, in addition to 4,261 forcibly disappeared children, hundreds of recruits, and hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced.
Syria’s leadership has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993, as well as ratifying the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the report notes, adding that while all the parties to the conflict have violated the rights of the child, the Syrian regime has far exceeded all other parties, individually or collectively, in terms of the amount of crimes the regime perpetrated in a regular and systematic manner. The report stresses that the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child, established by the Treaty Body for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, bears legal and ethical responsibilities to follow up on the situation of children’s rights in Syria and to help in bringing an end the violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime.
The report states that over the past nine years, children in Syria have been subjected to the same wide variety of horrendous violations as adults, without any concern or consideration for their vulnerability, despite the vast range of provisions in international law which insist on the need to respect the rights of the child. The report notes that the report of the United Nations Secretary-General to the UN Security Council on ‘Children and Armed Conflict’ for the year 2019 has classified Syria, according to various types of violations, as either the worst or among the worst countries worldwide.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“Violations against the children of Syria continue up to the current date, with some of these amounting to crimes against humanity. This is particularly devastating for coming generations and for the future of the Syrian people for decades to come. These violations are a branch of a continuation of the ongoing armed conflict that has extended for nine years, with the Security Council and the international community failing to find any political solution for it yet. The dictatorial Syrian regime will not transfer power peacefully, no matter how many Syrian children are killed or displaced, since the regime itself is the main culprit and the most prolific perpetrator of violations.”
The report outlines the record of violations against children by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and November 20, 2020, providing 10 accounts that SNHR collected through speaking directly with eyewitnesses, which are not cited from any open sources. The report is also based on the daily ongoing monitoring and verification of incidents and news and the collection of evidence and data, as well as analysis of videos and photos posted online.
The report refers to the cooperation between SNHR and the UNICEF Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), through a constant monthly sharing of the SNHR’s data, which SNHR has been able to document showing multiple types of violations against children, stressing the vital importance and the essential nature of the work of MRM in Syria
The report touches upon SNHR’s nomination of the Syrian child Enar al Hamrawi for the International Children’s Peace Prize for the year 2020, in appreciation of her exceptional efforts in conveying the suffering of the Syrian community, especially its children, to the wider world, showing the terrible violations children have been exposed to by the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian allies. The report notes that although Enar was shortlisted for the prize along with 142 other children from around the world, she did not reach the final stage, adding that despite this Enar’s nomination is an important achievement in itself in representing Syria’s children internationally, with Enar being an inspirational figure and a living symbol of the awesome capabilities of the heroic children of Syria who are its future, showing vast courage and resilience even in the face of unimaginable adversity and injustice and despite all the violations and brutal conditions which they have endured and are still being subjected to.
The report summarizes the record of the most notable violations against children documented on SNHR’s database, focusing particularly on categories of serious and grave life-threatening violations that have been identified by the United Nations Security Council, with the killing of children beings at the forefront of these violations and being the most severe atrocity in Syria, particularly given the high proportion of child victims; secondly comes arrest/ kidnapping, which in the vast majority of cases turn into enforced disappearance, while thirdly comes torture.
The report documents the deaths of 29,375 children at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and November 20, 2020, including 22,864 children killed at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, 2,005 at the hand of Russian forces, 958 at the hands of ISIS, and 66 at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS). The report adds that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have killed 225 children, while the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army killed 992 children. A further 925 children were killed as a result of attacks by the US-led coalition forces, and 1,340 children were killed at the hands of other parties.
In terms of arrest/ detention, enforced disappearance, and torture, the report reveals that at least 4,956 children are still arrested/ detained or forcibly disappeared by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, including 3,609 at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, 37 at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, 652 at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces, and 339 at the hands of the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army. The report adds that 319 of these children were arrested by ISIS before its retreat and are still forcibly disappeared, as of November 20, 2020.
As the report reveals, 179 children have been killed under torture in Syria since March 2011, including 173 in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, while one child died under torture in each of the detention centers of ISIS, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, Syrian Democratic Forces and the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army, and two children died due to torture at the hands of other parties.
The report also covers child conscription, attacks on educational facilities and the consequent abandonment and failure in the educational process, noting that the Syrian regime is the most prolific offender in this category, as in all the other categories of violations, compared to the other parties to the conflict, with the bombardment that has continued since March 2011 up until November 20, 2020, causing the total or partial destruction of at least 1,189 schools and 29 kindergartens, putting the majority of them out of service.
The forced displacement of nearly five million Syrian citizens due to attacks and violations committed by the Syrian regime and its allies has also led to widespread poverty, while many children have become breadwinners for their families, with these children moving to the workplace instead of studying.
The report adds that Syrian Regime forces have also routinely used sexual violence as a weapon of war and a tool of revenge against all groups within Syrian society, including children, with sexual violence having caused long-term physical and psychological repercussions among the child victims; the report documents at least 539 incidents of sexual violence against children, as of November 20, 2020.
As the report further notes, Syrian Regime forces have routinely conscripted children, establishing special training camps for them, with the conscription of children by the regime forces having resulted in the deaths of at least 57 children on Syria’s battlefields since March 2011 up until November 20, 2020.
The report also reveals that nearly a million children living in camps spread across Syria suffer from dreadful living conditions, lacking the most basic elements of hygiene, privacy, housing, medical and health care, along with a total absence of safety measures. The report notes that the remnants of weapons, particularly cluster munitions which have been used exclusively by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally, being deployed indiscriminately and on a large scale, are among the greatest dangers facing IDP children, as cluster munitions spread over large areas after their initial deployment and explosion, with their remnants remaining as life-threatening landmines, which are especially dangerous to children. The report documents the deaths of at least 427 children in attacks in which the Syrian regime used cluster munitions or in incidents involving the explosion of old remnants of cluster munitions.
As the report reveals, since their initial military intervention in Syria in September 2015, Russian forces have used more lethal weapons than those used by the Syrian regime, with the aim of controlling areas outside the control of the regime through indiscriminate bombardment and targeting civilians and vital facilities, with their attacks specifically using cluster munitions killing 67 children as of November 20, 2020. The Russian military forces’ attacks have also caused damage to at least 220 schools.
The report also outlines the violations by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, which, in addition to carrying out killings and detentions, has established training camps for children, enrolling them in sharia courses in an effort to influence their beliefs and to direct them to take up arms and fight. HTS has also taken control over many schools in areas under its control, and converted them to affiliated civilian and military headquarters. The report documents, as of November 20, 2020, that HTS had attacked three schools.
The report also sheds light on Syrian Democratic Forces’ widespread forced conscription of children. Although the Kurdish Self-Management authority signed a joint action plan with the United Nations to end the recruitment of children into its ranks and to demobilize those already recruited, while the People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units signed a commitment with Geneva Call in June 2014 to prohibit the use of children in fighting, their recruitment of children did not end as a result. The report documents at least 113 cases of child conscription carried out by the SDF since its establishment, with approximately 29 of these conscripted children subsequently killed on the battlefields. The report also documents that at least 10 schools were attacked by Syrian Democratic Forces as of November 20, 2020.
The report also includes the most notable violations committed by the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army, noting that in addition to the killings and arbitrary detentions, the Armed Opposition Factions have exploited the poor living conditions children live under to conscript children into their forces. As the report reveals, five children have been killed while participating with Armed Opposition factions in fighting on the battlefield. The report also documents that at least 35 schools were attacked by the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army, as of November 20, 2020.
The report stresses that despite the vast arsenal of international laws on the rights of the child which aim to ensure they are protected at all times, violations of the right of children in Syria have not stopped for nearly nine years, and none of the parties to the conflict have respected these laws, including the Syrian regime which has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child; this ratification, however, failed to deter the regime from committing violations against children that amount to crimes against humanity through extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, as well as war crimes through forced conscription. The report adds that many of the violations committed by the other parties to the conflict against children may also constitute war crimes in the context of being committed against the background of the conflict, and widespread violations of international human rights law if they are committed against children in areas controlled by these forces; arbitrary detention and torture are at the forefront of these violations, followed by forced conscription.
The report recommends that the international community should protect and assist forcibly displaced children, including IDPs and refugees, especially girls, should take into account their specific needs, primarily for protection, should fulfill their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, should expose the Syrian regime’s criminal practices against Syria’s children, and should make every possible effort to mitigate and stop them.
The report stresses the need to take all possible legal, political and financial measures against the Syrian regime and its allies, as well as against all perpetrators of violations in the Syrian conflict to pressure them to commit to respect the rights of children, to fulfill the commitment of pledged financial contributions, and to assist neighboring countries and provide all possible support to increase the level of education and healthcare in these countries which host the largest number of refugee children.
The report also calls on the international community to establish mechanisms to end the bombing of schools and kindergartens, to protect these facilities, and work to create a safe learning environment, which is the least possible level of protection that could be offered for civilians. The report underlines that the issue of Syrian children is a global one, which means that all countries must do their utmost to alleviate its repercussions by supporting schools and the educational and medical systems inside Syria, as well as by caring for refugee children.
The report further recommends that humanitarian aid operations should be coordinated according to the areas worst affected, and should avoid bowing to pressure and blackmail by the Syrian regime which is working to harness aid to its advantage, adding that donors should also provide adequate resources for the rehabilitation of children, taking into account the special needs of girls who have been directly affected by violations and who have been sexually exploited, giving priority to the worst affected areas.
The report stresses the need to ensure that refugees fleeing Syria are able to seek asylum and to respect their rights, including the prohibition of refoulement, adding that EU states and other countries should alleviate the burden on neighboring countries and receive more Syrian refugees, while donor countries should increase their assistance to the UNHCR and civil societies organizations in countries of asylum.
The report calls on the UNHCR to create a stable and safe environment for Syrian refugee children, to intensify work for their reintegration into society through the provision of long-term psychological treatment, and to promote investment in education and health. The report also recommends that the supporting States and the European Union should allocate greater resources to UNICEF in general and to the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism in particular.
In conclusion, the report stresses that the Syrian regime must fulfill its obligations based on its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the two International Covenants and the Geneva Conventions, emphasizing that all the parties to the conflict must stop deliberately shelling schools, kindergartens, and residential areas inhabited by children and their families, in addition to immediately releasing detained children, particularly those detained in the context of armed conflict, and that they must abide by international laws on the detention of children, especially girls, end the torture of detained children, and ensure separation of children from adults, permanently end the recruitment of children, and ensure the release of all children under the age of 15 from all military formations and duties.