The Continuing Gross Violations and Failure of Political Transition Devastate What Remains of Syria and Prevent Refugees from Returning
(Link below to download full report)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its monthly special report summarizing the human rights situation in Syria and outlining the most notable human rights violations documented by the SNHR in December and for all of 2020 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, in which it notes that the continuing gross violations and the failure of political transition devastate what remains of Syria and prevent refugees from returning.
The 41-page report outlines the most notable violations SNHR documented in December and for all of 2020, including the death toll of civilian victims who were killed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces, as well as providing the record of cases of arrest/ detention and enforced disappearance for the same period. The report also highlights indiscriminate attacks, as well as the use of outlawed weapons (cluster munitions, chemical weapons, barrel bombs, incendiary weapons), and attacks on civilian objects, which the report was able to document.
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 documents the deaths of 1,734 civilians, including 326 children and 169 women (adult female), in 2020, with the highest percentage of killings being carried out at the hands of other parties. Among the victims were 13 medical personnel, five media workers, and three Civil Defense personnel. The report also documents the deaths of 157 individuals who died due to torture, and at least 42 massacres at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, noting that 99 civilians, including 12 children, nine women and one media worker, were documented killed in December. The report also documents the deaths of eight individuals who died due to torture, and at least one massacre.
The report documents at least 1,882 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in 2020 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces, including 17 children and 23 women (adult female), with the largest percentage of these carried out by Syrian Regime forces in the governorates of Daraa, Damascus Suburbs, then Aleppo.
The report further documents at least 149 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in December at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, including nine children and two women (adult female), with the largest percentage of these carried out by Syrian Regime forces in the governorates of Daraa, Damascus Suburbs, then Damascus.
The report documents in 2020 at least 326 attacks on vital civilian facilities, 248 of which were carried out at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces, mostly in Idlib governorate. Among these attacks, 62 were on educational facilities (schools and kindergartens), 25 were on medical facilities and 80 others were on places of worship.
In addition to these incidents, the report also documents at least one incident of an attack on a vital civilian facility being perpetrated by the Syrian National Army forces.
As the report reveals, Syrian Regime forces carried out four cluster munition attacks in 2020 in the governorates of Idlib and Hama, resulting in the deaths of 13 civilians, including seven children and three women, and injuring 27 others.
The report documents that in 2020 the Syrian regime’s helicopter and fixed-wing warplanes dropped at least 474 barrel bombs in the governorates of Idlib, Aleppo and Hama. These attacks resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians, including four children and two women. At least 27 vital civilian facilities were damaged, including five schools, eight places of worship, and two medical facilities.
As the report reveals, Syrian Regime forces and militias continued carrying out artillery and missile bombardment on the cities and towns in the southern suburbs of Idlib and the western suburbs of Aleppo during December, but at a lower rate than the previous three months. The pace of Russian airstrikes decreased in December compared to the previous two months, with the report recording no airstrikes on Idlib governorate, although SNHR recorded several airstrikes on al Kbaina area in Latakia suburbs. As the report records, the Badiya [desert area] of the southern suburbs of Deir Ez-Zour witnessed battles between Syrian Regime forces and Russian forces against ISIS cells. In December, battles continued between Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian National Army forces in Ein Eisa district in the northern suburbs of Raqqa, in an attempt by the latter to advance and control the area.
The report further reveals that explosions (using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), motorcycle and car bombs) continued in most areas outside the control of Syrian Regime forces, particularly in the areas of al Bab and Afrin in the suburbs of Aleppo; landmines continue to claim civilian lives, with most of these incidents occurring in agricultural areas close to the front lines between Syrian Regime forces and factions of the Armed Opposition. Also in December, the report records continuing assassinations in the northwest and eastern areas of Aleppo governorate, as well as in the east and north of Deir Ez-Zour governorate and in Daraa governorate.
As for the COVID-19 pandemic, the report reveals that this continues to ravage all regions of Syrians, with dozens of deaths being recorded daily due to it. The report adds that December was no better than previous months this year, and through SNHR’s monitoring of reports of infections and deaths among citizens, the SNHR becomes more certain of the widening gap between the actual numbers of coronavirus cases and fatalities and those announced by the ruling authorities. In areas under the control of Syrian Regime forces, the Ministry of Health in December officially announced 3,547 cases of infection and 294 deaths, which is the highest admitted monthly record to date. In northwestern Syria, the Early Warning Alert and Response Network (EWARN) announced 4,268 infections and 143 deaths documented for the month. The report adds that 993 cases of infection and 76 deaths were announced for December by the Health Authority in the Self-Management Authority of Northern and Eastern Syria
The report refers to the deteriorating living conditions across Syria, noting that the economic collapse continues with its repercussions felt worst by ordinary Syrian citizens, who are unable to secure adequate food for themselves and their families. The report notes that the phenomena of beggary and homelessness have increased in most areas, especially in those areas under the control of Syrian Regime forces, adding that due to the exorbitant prices of heating materials, citizens are forced to use inadequate heating materials, whose use causes fires due to the explosion of heaters, with some of these incidents resulting in casualties.
The report highlights the issue of shortages of medicine in the areas under the control of Syrian Regime forces due to the repercussions of the economic crisis, with the medicine market suffering from a scarcity of medicine and an unprecedented increase in medicine prices, making it difficult for low-income citizens to acquire them. The report stresses that the Syrian regime continued to impose brutal restrictions on citizens despite the economic crisis afflicting Syria, with many municipalities removing and demolishing structures for their failure to meet building regulations, despite numerous families living in them; most of the families who had been living in these buildings had already been displaced from their homes in other regions.
As the report reveals, Ein Eisa district, in the suburbs of Raqqa, witnessed a displacement movement of hundreds of civilians fleeing their homes due to the bombing of the area by the Syrian National Army, with most of them moving towards Raqqa city. The report notes that the already abysmal humanitarian conditions in the camps in northern Syria have worsened with the arrival of winter, amid fears of flooding causing tents to collapse, sweeping them away or creating an impassible muddy morass into which the tents sink, as happened in previous years.
The report notes that on December 16, Syrian Regime forces forced the people displaced from three villages in the Wadi Barada area, namely Bassima, Ein al Fijah and Ein al Khadra, to gather at one of the regime’s checkpoints, forcing them to chant praise for the president of the Syrian regime, Bashar al Assad before allowing them to reenter their home villages for only a few hours, which they were only allowed to do on the condition that they had obtained security clearance.
The report elaborates on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that since the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the Syrian regime has dealt with it with callous, total and extreme disregard and absolute negligence. The report also notes that the whole of Syrian society is suffering from mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis, in all areas of control, with the report detailing examples of this. In addition, the report states that all the regions of Syria, particularly Idlib and surrounding areas, that have witnessed bombings, destruction and forced displacement are suffering from further challenges in addition to the usual ones, due to the continuous displacement waves these have witnessed, with exceptional humanitarian aid efforts required to focus particularly on these people in the areas to which they were displaced. The report also reveals that the Syrian regime and its Russian ally are the parties primarily responsible for the targeting, bombing and destruction of most medical facilities in Syria, and for the killing and arrest/ ‘disappearance’ of hundreds of medical personnel, as documented on the SNHR’s database. The report adds that the regime’s failure to release arbitrarily detained individuals, particularly the elderly and individuals detained without charge, provides further clear evidence of the Syrian regime’s primary responsibility for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Syria, as the regime controls and manages state institutions.
The report further reveals that evidence gathered by SNHR indicates that attacks have been directed against civilians and civilian objects, with Syrian-Russian alliance forces continuing to commit various crimes of extrajudicial killings, arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance. In addition, the indiscriminate attacks they have carried out caused the destruction of various facilities and other buildings. There are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crime of attacking civilians has been committed in many cases.
The report stresses that the Syrian government has violated international humanitarian law and customary law, and a number of UN Security Council resolutions, particularly resolutions 2139 and 2042 concerning the release of detainees, as well as resolution 2254, all without any accountability.
The report adds that the instances of indiscriminate and disproportionate bombardment carried out by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are considered to be in clear violation of international humanitarian law, with such indiscriminate killings amounting to war crimes.
The report calls on the UN 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 calls on the Security Council to adopt a resolution banning the use of cluster munitions and landmines in Syria, similar to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and to include advice on how to safely remove the remnants of such dangerous weapons.
The report additionally 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 person camps, and to follow up with those States that have pledged voluntary contributions.
The report calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine 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 to implement the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, 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 on these bodies to focus on the issue of landmines and cluster munitions within their 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 reschedule the peace process so that it can resume its natural course despite Russia’s attempts to divert and distort it, through empowering the Constitutional Committee prior to the establishment of a transitional governing body.
The report also stresses that the Syrian regime must stop the indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, and stop using prohibited munitions and barrel bombs, as well as ending the acts of torture that have caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian citizens in detention centers. The report adds that the Syrian regime must also reveal the fate of 84,000 Syrian citizens previously arrested by the regime’s own security apparatus, whose fate it has concealed to date, and comply with UN Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law.
The report stresses that the states supporting Syrian Democratic Forces 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 adds that Syrian Democratic Forces must immediately stop conscripting children, hold the officers involved in such violations accountable, and pledge to return all children who have been arrested for conscription immediately.
The report also 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, to exert efforts in landmine clearance operations in parallel with relief operations whenever the opportunity arises, and to provide protected facilities and vehicles, such as medical facilities, schools, and ambulances, with distinctive signs that can be distinguished from long distances.