Brussels Conference Aid Must Be Linked to the Extent of Respect for and Application of Human Rights Principles and the Victims Most Affected
(Link below to download full report)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its monthly special report summarizing the human rights situation in Syria, outlining the most notable human rights violations documented by the SNHR in March 2021 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, in which it notes the Brussels Conference aid must be linked to the extent of respect for and application of human rights principles and the victims most affected.
The 40-page report outlines the most notable violations SNHR documented in March 2021, including the death toll of civilian victims who were killed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces, as well as the record of cases of arrest/ detention and enforced disappearances. 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 SNHR was able to document during this period.
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 177 civilians in March, including 28 children, 35 women (adult female), one medical worker and one Civil Defense worker, the largest percentage of whom were killed at the hands of other parties. The report also documents the deaths of nine individuals who died due to torture, as well as four massacres at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria.
The report further documents at least 143 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in March at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, including two children and nine women, with the largest percentage of these carried out by Syrian regime forces in the governorate of Damascus Suburbs, then Damascus governorate.
In addition to these incidents, the report also documents at least 13 attacks on vital civilian facilities, 10 of which were at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces, with these incidents concentrated in Idlib and Aleppo governorates; one of the other attacks in this category was perpetrated by Syrian Democratic Forces, while two more were carried out by other parties. Among these attacks, the report documents two attacks on educational facilities, and three attacks on medical facilities.
As the report reveals, the Syrian regime’s forces and allies continued their artillery and missile bombardment of cities and towns in the southern suburbs of Idlib, the western suburbs of Hama and the eastern suburbs of Aleppo near the front lines throughout March. Syrian regime forces and allies also bombed areas far from the front lines, such as Ariha city in Idlib suburbs. On March 21, the Idlib region saw a military escalation by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces, with the report documenting attacks that targeted several civilian areas containing vital installations and facilities, the most prominent of which were the attack on al Atareb Hospital in the suburbs of the Aleppo governorate, and the attack on the Sarmada-Bab al Hawa Road in the northern Idlib governorate, which caused massive material damage to vehicles that transport humanitarian aid, in addition to damaging a relief organization’s warehouse. In March, the Russian forces launched raids on several areas, targeting civilian and military areas belonging to Hay’at Tahrir al Sham. Meanwhile, Al Humran crossing area and the Tarhin area both saw attacks on March 5 with long-range 9M55K missiles, believed to be fired from the Russian Hmeimim airbase; at least one of these missiles was loaded with 9n235 cluster munitions. The attack caused civilian casualties and significant damage to fuel tanks and burners. This was the first time that we had documented a cluster munition attack since June 2020. In recent months, Russian media outlets have reported bombardment operations by Russian forces targeting several sites – within the areas where the Syrian regime regained control with Russian forces’ support – as former centers for “terrorists”, including the bombing of al Maghara Central Hospital in the suburbs of Hama governorate, which was previously bombed by the same forces.
The report additionally reveals that the areas controlled by the Syrian National Army forces in northeast Aleppo governorate saw missile and artillery shelling by both Syrian regime forces and Syrian Democratic Forces, further noting that while the frequency of bombings in northern and eastern Syria in areas outside the control of Syrian regime forces decreased compared to previous months, they did not stop and were concentrated in March in the Afrin and al Bab areas in Aleppo suburbs, and Ras al Ein city in the northwestern suburbs of Hasaka.
The report further reveals that mines continue to claim large numbers of civilian lives in different governorates and regions of Syria. In March, the report documented the deaths of 51 civilians, including six children and 20 women.
As for the COVID-19 pandemic, the report reveals that the infections with the COVID-19 pandemic have witnessed a significant increase in March, especially in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime. The report adds that the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Health in March officially announced 3,321 cases of COVID-19 infection and 238 deaths, the highest monthly record since December 2020, noting that the figures publicly announced by the Syrian regime are grossly inaccurate due to the weak capabilities of the collapsed health sector and to the security services’ control of state ministries and of the statements issued by them; there is concern that the Syrian regime will use the COVID-19 pandemic for political purposes related to the upcoming presidential elections. In northwestern Syria, the Early Warning Alert and Response Network (EWARN) announced in March the documentation of 143 infections and 229 deaths related to COVID-19 for the month; the death toll recorded in March is the highest monthly toll since the announcement of the first case in northwest Syria in July 2020. In northeastern Syria, the Health Authority in the Self-Management Authority of Northern and Eastern Syria announced that 1,451 cases of infection and 57 deaths were recorded in March, the highest monthly record since December 2020.
As the report reveals, the camps in north and east Syria continue to suffer from deteriorating humanitarian conditions, which are exacerbated by the harsh climatic conditions, adding that the rainstorms that hit northwest Syria in March caused massive material damage to dozens of IDP camps in the western and northern suburbs of Idlib and the northern suburbs of Aleppo.
The report adds that in March al Hawl Camp saw the deaths of 26 civilians, including eight children and eight women, most of whom were Iraqis, at the hands of unknown gunmen believed to be affiliated with ISIS cells; this is the highest death toll in the camp since it was established, bringing the death toll in the camp since the beginning of this year to 43 civilians, including 10 children and 11 women.
As the report reveals, residents of al Rukban Camp, in the eastern suburbs of Homs near the Syrian-Jordanian border, continue to face many problems and challenges, with the poor security conditions in the camp likely adding to their suffering.
The report adds that the tragedy of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon has doubled in conjunction with the economic collapse that the state is witnessing, especially in light of refugees being erroneously held responsible by some political entities for contributing to this collapse.
The report mentions the Brussels V Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”, held on the 29th and 30th of March, which was chaired by the European Union and the United Nations, and held in the presence of representatives from more than 80 states and international organizations. At its conclusion, the assembled states pledged to provide 3.6 billion euros in 2021, a decrease on the 4.9 billion euros raised in 2020 at the Brussels IV Conference, for Syria and for the neighboring countries that host the largest number of Syrian refugees. The report notes that the donations collected are less than the sum hoped for in light of the deteriorating economic conditions and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report expresses regret that, although the stated purpose of holding the conference was to raise funds for the Syrian people, in reality it overlooked the political and human rights failures for which solutions were among the goals of the conference in its early stages, with no serious measures taken at the conference in order to achieve safety for civilians and put pressure on the actor parties in order to achieve the political transition process or to achieve steps on the path of accountability.
The report also refers to the event hosted by the Syrian Network for Human Rights on Thursday, March 25, marking the tenth anniversary of the start of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria, with participants from a number of leading nations, on the sidelines of the Brussels V Conference, entitled “Syria: A Decade of Impunity and The Need for Accountability for Ongoing Human Rights Violations”.
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 all the regions of Syria, particularly Idlib and surrounding areas, which have witnessed bombings, destruction and forced displacement, are suffering from further challenges in addition to the usual ones; at the forefront of these challenges are the nearly 3 million Syrian IDPs, who have been unable to return to their homes, making them more vulnerable than others to infection with COVID-19. The report adds that the Syrian Jazira region suffers from a similar situation, as Russia’s use of its United Nations veto has caused the region to be denied direct UN aid, which is now provided exclusively through the Syrian regime.
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 calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) 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 the COI 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 emphasizes that the Syrian regime must stop its indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, and stop using prohibited munitions and barrel bombs, as well as complying 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 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 calls on them to take care to distinguish between civilians and military targets and to cease any indiscriminate attacks.
Lastly, the report stresses the need for humanitarian organizations to develop urgent operational plans to secure decent shelter for internally displaced persons, and to provide protected facilities and vehicles, such as medical facilities, schools, and ambulances, with distinctive signs that can be distinguished from long distances, as well as making several additional recommendations.