606 Civilians, including 157 Children, Were Killed at the Hands of Syrian-Russian Alliance Forces
In its latest report, released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) asserts that the Security Council must act after 11 weeks of indiscriminate bombardment on Idlib governorate and its environs at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces, in which 606 civilians, including 157 children, were killed.
The 23-page report reveals that Russia has applied the same techniques since the Syrian regime took control of the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo in December 2016, using on many occasions heavy and indiscriminate aerial bombardment, and on some occasions focused deliberate bombardment, of civilian neighborhoods, as well as continuing its blatant violations of the laws of war, encouraged by international silence or only the most feeble condemnation, with these strategies resulting after many days or months in gaining land and displacing civilians.
The report stresses that applying this technique has enabled the Syrian regime to control the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, then the Eastern Ghouta and the Syrian south. However, as the report details, the latest attack on Idlib governorate, the northern suburbs of Hama and the southwestern suburbs of Aleppo is characterized, compared to other areas, by the existence of a large population density of about three million Syrians, since most of the people in formerly liberated areas which are now controlled by the Syrian regime fled there. Also, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s seizing control of areas of Idlib governorate has undoubtedly increased the suffering of civilians since most of the civil society organizations there have ceased their provision of assistance, while Hay’at Tahrir al Sham has inflicted extremist and authoritarian practices against the people.
The report reveals that the military campaign on the Idlib area has seen the Syrian regime again using barrel and chemical, in addition to the extensive use of cluster and incendiary munitions, which caused property damage and the burning of thousands of hectares of agricultural land.
The details in the report show that the Syrian-Russian alliance forces did not abide by the cease-fire agreement, which entered into forces on June 12, 2019, with the report noting that these forces have continued to carry out their attacks and expand the areas they targeted by air raids, with these attacks extending to the outskirts of Idlib city, Ma’aret Misreen town and Saraqeb city in the northern suburbs of Idlib, and areas in the western suburbs of Aleppo; most were concentrated in the areas of northern suburbs of Hama and the southern suburbs of Idlib.
The report notes that according to statistics published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), some 330,000 people were displaced from the Idlib area between May 1 and June 13, 2019. The report estimates that at least 85,000 of those displaced live in primitive tents in the open, spread over agricultural lands and lacking the minimum basic elements of life
The report focuses on events in the fourth and final de-escalation zone (consisting of Idlib governorate and parts of the governorates of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia) and outlines the record of the most notable human rights violations following the military escalation by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces in the region from April 26, 2019, to July 12, 2019, as well as the record of violations committed following the announcement by the Russian Government of an alleged cease-fire on June 12.
The report documents the deaths of 606 civilians, including 157 children, 111 women (adult female), and 27 massacres, between April 26, 2019, and July 12, 2019, of whom the Syrian regime killed 521, including 136 children and 97 women, and committed 23 massacres, while Russian forces killed another 85, including 21 children and 14 women, and committed four massacres. The report notes that at least eight medical personnel, including one woman, were killed at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, in addition to four Civil Defense personnel killed at the hands of Russian forces.
As the report reveals, these attacks resulted in at least 294 attacks on vital civilian facilities, including 87 on schools, 62 on places of worship, 43 on medical facilities, 30 on Civil Defense facilities (centers and vehicles), 10 on markets, and four on IDPs camps, 211 of which were at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, while 73 attacks were at the hands of Russian forces.
The report notes that at least 17 cluster munitions attacks were documented during the same period, with 16 of these carried out at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, while the other was carried out at the hands of Russian forces. In addition to these attacks, 16 attacks using incendiary weapons were carried out at the hands of Syrian Regime forces. The report adds that the Syrian Regime air force, using both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, dropped at least 1,710 barrel bombs on the fourth de-escalation zone during the same period.
The report monitors the most notable human rights violations between June 12, the date of the cease-fire agreement, and July 12. The report documents the death of 217 civilians, including 57 children and 32 women (adult female), 194 of whom were killed at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, including 54 children and 31, while Russian forces killed 23 civilians, including three children and one woman. The report also documents at least nine massacres since June 12, all committed at the hands of Syrian Regime forces. The report adds that at least four medical personnel, including one woman, were killed since June 12, all at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, while three Civil Defense personnel were killed in the same period, all at the hands of Russian forces. According to the report, at least 66 attacks were carried out on vital civilian facilities from June 12, 2019, to July 12, 2019, including 16 on schools, 13 on places of worship, nine on medical facilities; 52 of these attacks were carried out by Syrian Regime forces, while the other 14 were carried out by Russian forces.
The report notes that the Syrian regime carried out eight cluster munitions attacks, in addition to one incendiary weapons attack, adding that the Syrian Regime air force, using both fixed-wing warplanes and helicopters, dropped at least 285 barrel bombs during the same period. The report stresses that Syrian and Russian forces have violated several rules of international humanitarian law, primarily through their failure to discriminate between civilians and combatants, between civilian and military targets, bombing hospitals, schools, centers and civilian neighborhoods, with these violations amount to war crimes. The report also emphasizes that launching a deliberate attack on medical personnel in the context of a non-international armed conflict is a war crime punishable by international humanitarian law and international criminal law (Articles 8 (2) (b), 24, 8 (2) (e) (2) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court).
The report further notes that displacement or forced displacement is another war crime in non-international armed conflicts when committed as part of a deliberate or widespread attack against the civilian population (Articles 8 (2) (b) (7) and 8 (2) (e) (8) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court) and may also be considered crimes against humanity (Articles 7 (1) (d) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court). The report notes that Syrian-Russian alliance forces have violated the de-escalation zone agreement in all regions, including the Idlib region, and violated the Sochi Agreement that came into force in September 2018. In addition, Syrian Regime forces have practiced the crime of displacement in a systematic, widespread and organized manner, which constitutes a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and amounts to a crime against humanity under Article VII of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We have not recorded any measures by these forces to provide shelter, health care or food to the displaced civilians.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to stabilize the ceasefire in Idlib and to include punitive measures for all violators of the cease-fire, to genuinely support the serious implementation of the peace process in Syria and to assist in achieving a just political transition that guarantees security and stability, to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court, to ensure that all those involved in these crimes are held accountable, to pass a resolution concerning enforced displacement, to ensure that this does not become a long-term crisis, to put pressure on the Syrian regime to end displacements, and to enact laws aimed at preventing the plunder of displaced persons’ properties and possessions.
The report urges the International Community to take action at both national and regional levels to form alliances to support the Syrian people in a way that can protect them from the daily killings, to lift the sieges and to increase support for relief efforts. Additionally, it urges that the principle of universal jurisdiction should be applied in local courts regarding these crimes.
The report calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly, and to fulfil justice and achieve accountability in Syria through the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. The report recommends that the OHCHR should submit a report to the Human Rights Council and other organs of the United Nations concerning the violations committed by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces.
The report calls on the UN Secretary General to clearly identify the perpetrators of violations, explaining that doing so will contribute to condemning their actions, exposing their practices and sending a message of solidarity to the affected community, while failing to clearly identify the perpetrators of these apparent violations encourages these and other perpetrators to commit more violations and to repeat them. The report calls on the countries that support the parties to the conflict in Syria, especially Russia, to put pressure on their allies on the ground to ensure the neutrality of the Idlib area of combat operations, and to protect the lives of at least three million people living there.
The report stresses that the UN Envoy to Syria must condemn the perpetrators of the crimes and massacres and the main culprits in the collapse of agreements on de-escalation zones, and thus declare the collapse and the end of the political process in full, as well as holding the Syrian-Russian alliance to account for its actions, and to disclose to the Syrian people Russia’s pursuit of full control of Syrian territory by force, and its public desire to rehabilitate the current regime, which means the creation of a political solution which satisfies only its own interests.
The report calls on the donor countries and the UNOCHR to ensure basic living conditions, to pay attention to the needs of and help provide care for thousands of displaced Syrians who are displaced in the north-western Idlib suburbs. Finally, the report calls on the Russian forces to stop committing all types of war crimes in Syria, to commit to the outcome of the Sochi Summit and not repeat the scenario of violations we have seen in the agreements of de-escalation zone, to stop supporting the war crimes and crimes against humanity which the Syrian regime has been committing, with the current support being considered as direct involvement in these crimes, to contribute to the assistance of displaced persons who were displaced by the Russian war machine from the Eastern Ghouta in the Damascus Suburbs governorate and the governorates of Homs and Daraa, and to protect the residents of those areas who remained from the arrests, persecution, kidnappings and enforced disappearances being perpetrated by the Syrian Regime and the Iranian militias.