Syria Is Unsafe for Any Genuine Elections Until the Conflict Ends and a Political Transition Takes Place
(Link below to download full report)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its monthly report released today that extrajudicial killing claimed the lives of 96 civilians, including 15 children, 11 women, and nine victims due to torture, in Syria in May 2021, with the report also noting that Syria is unsafe for any genuine elections until the conflict ends and a political transition takes place.
The 24-page report states that the crime of murder has become widespread and systematic, mainly at the hands of Syrian regime forces and 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 details the death toll of victims documented killed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria in May 2021, particularly focusing on the victims amongst children and women, and those who died due to torture.
As the report explains, 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 also includes the distribution of the death toll of victims according to the perpetrator parties, noting 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 the report does 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.
As the report reveals, May saw continuing large number civilian deaths as a result of landmine explosions in different governorates and regions of Syria, with SNHR documenting the deaths of nine victims, including four children, bringing the civilian death toll caused by landmines since the beginning of 2021 to 105, including 39 children, in several areas controlled by various different forces. This indicates that none of the controlling forces have made any significant efforts towards clearing landmines, or trying to determine their locations and fence them off, or to warn the local populations about them.
The report notes that the continuation of the killings in various regions and in various forms confirms that Syria is one of the worst, if not the worst, country in the world for deaths among citizens due to extrajudicial killings, including killings under torture; even while continuing with its killings and torture, the Syrian regime held its own ‘elections’ which were a complete sham, as the report notes, given the unsafe environment and the threat to voters from the regime’s security services. The report stresses that only after the Syrian conflict is ended, extrajudicial killings are stopped, and a political transition to a democratic system is achieved, can a constitution and elections be discussed.
The report further reveals that remote/ suicide bombings continued in Syria in May, resulting in the deaths of 11 civilians, including four children. Also during this month, Syrian regime forces continued their indiscriminate bombardment against civilians. The report adds that al Hawl Camp is still witnessing casualties; in May, SNHR documented the deaths of five civilians there, including three women, whose bodies were discovered inside the camp, killed by parties that we have not yet been able to identify. The report notes that in May, SNHR also documented the deaths of 37 civilians, including two children and five women, who were killed as a result of gunfire from unknown sources. During the same period, the report adds, SNHR also documented the deaths of an infant and a man, and the injury of ten other civilians, when Syrian regime forces and militias opened fire randomly in Aleppo city while celebrating the presidential election results and the ‘victory’ of Bashar al Assad. The report also outlines the most notable incidents and types of killing that occurred against Syrian citizens in May.
As the report explains, the SNHR’s Victim Documentation team documented the deaths of 96 civilians, including 15 children and 11 women (adult female) in May. This figure is broken down according to the perpetrators in each case, with 12 of the civilian victims, including two children and three women, killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces, one civilian killed at the hands of ISIS, one civilian killed at the hand of the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army, and one civilian killed at the hands of US-led Coalition forces. In addition, the report adds, SNHR also documented the deaths of three civilians at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, 13 civilians, including two children, killed at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces, and 65 civilians, including 11 children and eight women, killed at the hands of other parties.
Also in May 2021, as the report reveals, the SNHR’s working team documented the deaths of nine victims due to torture, with five of these victims killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces, two at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces, one at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, and one at the hands of the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army.
The report notes 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 3,329 medical personnel are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime.
The report also states that it does not include all deaths, including those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily focusing on the documentation of extrajudicial killings, further noting that the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Health has announced the deaths of 1,770 cases in Syria due to the COVID-19 as of May 31, 2021. SNHR believes this statistic to be grossly inaccurate, given the absence of any transparency in the various government ministries, and in view of the security services’ supervision of any information issued by these ministries, as is the case with totalitarian regimes.
As the report notes, the evidence collected by SNHR indicates that some of the attacks documented in the report were deliberately directed against civilians and civilian objects. These attacks along with 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 adds that the use of explosive arms munitions to target densely populated areas reflects a criminal mindset intent on deliberately inflicting the greatest possible number of deaths, which is a clear contravention of international human rights law and a flagrant violation of the fourth Geneva Convention (articles 27, 31, 32).
The report further stresses that it is impossible to hold free or fair elections under the absolute control of the security services working for a presidential candidate such as Bashar al Assad. Before there can be any discussion of a constitution and elections, the conflict must be ended, the killings must be stopped, a political transition must have taken place and a safe environment must have been achieved.
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 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’ doctrine after all political channels have proved fruitless throughout all the agreements reached, 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 further 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 additionally 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, as well as calling them on to focus on the issue of landmines and cluster munitions within the next report.
The report also stresses that the Syrian regime must stop the indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, as well as ending its 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 cease all forms of support until the SDF commits itself to complying with the rules of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
The report calls on the Armed Opposition and Syrian National Army to ensure the protection of civilians in all areas under their control, as well as calling on them to take care to distinguish between civilians and military targets and to cease any indiscriminate attacks.
Lastly, the report calls on all the parties to the conflict to provide detailed maps of the locations where they have planted landmines, especially civilian sites or areas near residential communities, as well as making several additional recommendations.