Ongoing Civilian Casualties in Parallel with the Constitutional Committee Meetings: The Political Transition Must Be Accelerated
(Link below to download full report)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its monthly report released today that at least 172 civilians, including 16 children and 11 women, were documented killed in November 2020 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with the report noting that civilian casualties have been inflicted even while the Constitutional Committee meetings take place, adding that the political transition must be accelerated.
The 23-page report states that the crime of murder has become widespread and systematic, mainly at the hands of Syrian regime forces and their affiliated militias, adding that the entry of several parties into the Syrian conflict has increased the importance and complexity of documenting the victims killed in Syria.
The report notes that since 2011, the SNHR has created complex electronic programs to archive and categorize the victims’ data, enabling the SNHR to catalogue victims according to the gender and location where each was killed, the governorate from which each victim originally came, and the party responsible for the killing, and to make comparisons between these parties, and identify the governorates which lost the largest proportion of residents. The report catalogues the death toll of victims according to the governorate in which they were killed, rather than by the governorate they originally came from.
This report records the death toll of victims documented killed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria in November 2020, particularly focusing on the victims amongst children and women, and those who died due to torture, paying particular attention to the massacres committed by the parties to the conflict over the past month.
As the report reveals, deaths among Syrian citizens caused by landmine explosions in different governorates and regions in Syria continued in November 2020, with November seeing the deaths of 12 victims, including three children, caused by landmines, bringing the total death toll as a result of landmines this year to 98 civilians, including 18 children, making this death toll the highest worldwide in this category, indicating that none of the controlling forces have made any significant efforts in the process of clearing landmines, or trying to determine their locations and fence them off, or warn the local population about them.
As the report further reveals, the statistics provided for the death toll of victims include those related to extrajudicial killings by the controlling forces in each area which occurred as a violation of both International Human Rights Law or International Humanitarian Law, and do not include deaths arising from natural causes or those caused by disputes between individual members of society.
The report includes the distribution of the death toll of victims according to the perpetrator parties, noting that accurately ascribing responsibility sometimes requires more time and investigation than usual, especially in the case of joint attacks. In addition, in cases where it’s unable to definitively assign responsibility for a particular killing to one of two possible parties because of the area’s proximity to the lines of engagement, the use of similar weapons, or other reasons, the incident is categorized among ‘other parties’ until sufficient evidence is available to conclusively assign responsibility for the violation to one of the two parties.
The report notes that there is great difficulty in determining the party that planted landmines, due to the multiplicity of forces controlling the areas in which these explosions occurred, and therefore we do not attribute the vast majority of killings due to landmines to a specific party. None of the perpetrator forces in the Syrian conflict have revealed maps of the places where they planted landmines.
The report draws upon the ongoing daily monitoring of news and developments, and on an extensive network of relations with various sources, in addition to analyzing a large number of photographs and videos.
The report states that the Syrian regime bears the primary responsibility for the deaths of Syrian citizens due to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the Syrian regime and its Russian ally have repeatedly been documented as having targeted, bombed and destroyed most medical facilities in Syria, and killed hundreds of medical personnel, according to the SNHR’s database, with dozens of these lifesaving medics being still classified as forcibly disappeared at the regime’s hands, noting that nearly 3,327 medical personnel are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime.
The report notes that it does not include all deaths, including those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the report mainly documents extrajudicial killings, further noting that the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Health has announced the deaths of 409 cases in Syria due to the COVID-19, describing this statistic as inaccurate, given the absence of any transparency in the various government ministries, and in view of the supervision of the security services on what is issued by these ministries, which is the case with totalitarian regimes.
As the report reveals, the beginning of 2020 was accompanied by a violent military operation led by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies against the areas outside its control in and around Idlib. The cities and residential neighborhoods in these areas were subjected to massive and indiscriminate bombardment, which resulted in dozens of deaths and the displacement of residents of entire cities. The first and second months of the year also saw a marked increase in the death toll.
The report notes that November 2020 saw a remarkable increase in the death toll compared to the previous recent months, but there is no doubt that the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ceasefire agreement that came into effect on March 6 of 2020 have played a major role in weakening the capabilities of the Syrian regime’s army and affiliated Iranian militias, which contributed to a decrease in the death toll this year compared to previous years. However, the insecurity seen in most governorates, including those under the control of the Syrian regime, has caused an increase in killings, mainly through explosions and shootings by unknown persons. The report further notes that SNHR was unable to identify the perpetrators of these violations in many cases, adding that these practices have caused the large number of casualties this year compared to last year, 2019.
As the report explains, the SNHR’s Victim Documentation team documented the deaths of 172 civilians, including 16 children and 11 women (adult female) in November. This figure is broken down according to the perpetrators in each case, with 39 of the civilians, including five children, killed at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, one civilian killed at the hands of Russian forces, 11 civilians killed at the hands of ISIS, and four civilians killed at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham. In addition, the report documents the deaths of four civilians, including one child and one woman, at the hands of the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army.
The report also documents the deaths of seven civilians, including one child and one woman, at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces, along with the deaths of 106 civilians, including nine children and 10 women, at the hands of other parties.
Also in November 2020, as the report reveals, the SNHR’s working team documented the deaths of 30 victims due to torture; 25 of these victims died at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, one at the hands of the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army, three at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces, and one at the hands of other parties.
The report also documents two massacres in November 2020, both at the hands of other parties, one resulting from the explosion of a landmine of unknown origin in al Bab city in the suburbs of Aleppo governorate, and the other from the explosion of a landmine, also of unknown origin, with the term massacre used in this context to refer to an attack that caused the death of at least five peaceful individuals in the same incident.
As the report notes, the evidence collected by SNHR indicates that the attacks documented were directed against civilians and civilian objects. Syrian-Russian alliance forces have committed various crimes ranging from extrajudicial killings to detention, torture and enforced disappearance. Their attacks and indiscriminate bombardment have resulted in the destruction of facilities and buildings. The report notes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crime of attacking civilians has been committed in many cases.
The report further reveals that there has been an increase in the proportion of victims among Syrians killed by landmines, and that none of the perpetrator forces in the Syrian conflict have revealed maps of the places where they planted landmines. The report affirms that SNHR, as a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines – Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC), affirms its endeavor within this international coalition to implement a comprehensive ban on the use of landmines and cluster munitions, and to ensure that this becomes a customary law. The report reveals that the International Humanitarian Law greatly restricts the use of landmines, which are considered among the most lethal indiscriminate weapons. The vast majority of their victims are civilians, and the threat from the use of landmines affects local communities for years.
The report stresses that the Syrian government has violated international humanitarian law and customary law, and all UN Security Council resolutions, particularly resolution 2139, resolution 2042, and resolution 2254, all without any accountability.
As the report also notes, ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham have both violated international humanitarian law by killing civilians, while Syrian Democratic Forces carried out attacks that are considered violations of international humanitarian law, with the crimes of indiscriminate killing amounting to war crimes.
The report calls on the Security Council to take additional steps following its adoption of Resolution 2254, and stresses the importance of referring the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court, adding that all those who are responsible should be held accountable including the Russian regime whose involvement in war crimes has been repeatedly proven.
The report also requests that all relevant United Nations agencies make greater efforts to provide food, medical and humanitarian assistance in areas where fighting has ceased, and in internally displaced persons camps, and to follow up with those States that have pledged voluntary contributions.
The report calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ after all political channels have proved fruitless through all agreements, the Cessation of Hostilities statements, and Astana agreements that followed, stressing the need to resort to Chapter VII, and implement the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly.
The report recommends that the international community should work to launch projects to create maps revealing the locations of landmines and cluster munitions in all Syrian governorates. This would facilitate the process of clearing them and educating the population about their locations.
The report calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) and the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to launch investigations into the cases included in this report and previous reports, and confirms the SNHR’s willingness to cooperate and provide further evidence and data, with the report calling them on to focus on the issue of landmines and cluster munitions within the next report.
The report also calls on the United Nations Special Envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of crimes and massacres and those who were primarily responsible for dooming the de-escalation agreements to failure, to re-sequence the peace process so that it can resume its natural course despite Russia’s attempts to divert and distort it, empowering the Constitutional Committee prior to the establishment of a transitional governing body.
The report emphasizes that the Russian regime must launch investigations into the incidents included in this report, make the findings of these investigations public for the Syrian people, and hold the people involved accountable, as well as demanding that the Russian regime, as a guarantor party in Astana talks, should stop thwarting de-escalation agreements.
The report also stresses that the Syrian regime must stop the indiscriminate shelling and targeting residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, as well as ending the acts of torture that have caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian citizens in detention centers, and complying with UN Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law.
The report stresses that the states supporting the SDF should apply pressure on these forces in order to compel them to cease all of their violations in all the areas and towns under their control, adding that all forms of support, military and all others, should be ceased unless the SDF stops all its violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
The report calls on the Armed Opposition and the Syrian National Army to ensure the protection of civilians in all areas under their control, and urges them to investigate incidents that have resulted in civilian casualties, as well as calling on them to take care to distinguish between civilians and military targets and to cease any indiscriminate attacks.
The report calls on the Syrian regime and all the parties to the conflict and controlling forces to provide detailed maps of the locations where they planted landmines, especially in civilian areas or near residential communities.
Lastly, the report stresses the need for humanitarian organizations to develop urgent operational plans to secure decent shelter for internally displaced persons, and to exert efforts in landmine clearance operations in parallel with relief operations whenever the opportunity arises.