Security Council Resolution 2139 Must Be Implemented and Perpetrators of Indiscriminate Bombardment, Destruction and Forced Displacement Must Be Held Accountable
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in its report released today that the Syrian regime has dropped nearly 82,000 barrel bombs in nine years, killing 11,087 civilians, including 1,821 children, noting that the Security Council Resolution 2139 must be implemented and perpetrators of indiscriminate bombardment, destruction and forced displacement must be held accountable.
The 35-page report describes barrel bombs as a primitive, barbaric weapon, adding that their use is a disgrace even among the world’s weakest armies. It notes that the Syrian regime has used a vast range of weapons over the past nine years in its efforts to crush the popular uprising that turned into an internal armed conflict in 2012, with the regime gradually introducing newer and ever more terrible weapons. The report further indicates that what particularly distinguishes the Syrian regime’s brutality over its peers is its use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs.
The report provided the latest data from the Syrian Network for Human Rights about the Syrian regime’s use of barrel bombs, adding that SNHR uses the term ‘barrel bombs’ to refer collectively to all locally manufactured containers filled with explosive materials. The report reveals that the Syrian regime has extensively used this weapon for several reasons; the first of these is the absence of any deterrent response by the UN Security Council and the international community to its use of such a primitive and barbaric weapon; second is that barrel bombs are crude, low-cost, homemade devices, simple to manufacture, with a highly destructive capacity, equivalent to about seven mortar shells per barrel bomb; third is the Syrian regime’s indifference to the indiscriminate effects of this weapon, and its failure to distinguish between civilians or combatants, since this barbaric weapon is often dropped from helicopters, depending on the principle of freefall and thus untargeted meaning that its use amounts to a war crime, and lastly the Syrian regime does not care about the reputation of the army institution, but rather uses it as a tool in maintaining power.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says: “We no longer hear even condemnations of the Syrian regime’s use of barrel bombs against civilians, with this strategy based on repeating bombardment hundreds or thousands of times until condemnation or documentation becomes futile, and the Syrian community reaches a stage of despair and surrender. The Security Council bears the responsibility for implementing its own resolution, which it has failed to do since the resolution was adopted in February 2014, and the failure is still continuing to date.”
The report details the record of the Syrian regime’s use of barrel bombs since the first use of this weapon documented by SNHR in July 2012 up until April 2021 and the deaths and attacks on vital civilian facilities resulting from this use. The report also outlines incidents that occurred after the publication of the previous extensive report that the SNHR issued in 2017. The report relies on the monitoring and documentation processes of the use of barrel bombs within the context of documenting incidents in which violations occur, as well as on the continuous work for more than nine years, which enabled the SNHR to build up an extensive database documenting all these violations. 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 method is used in order to identify the extent of the human losses caused by the use of barrel bombs in each of the Syrian governorates.
The report details the stages of manufacturing barrel bombs, starting from manufacturing the outer casing of the barrel bomb, then filling the barrel bombs with explosive materials, consisting mainly of ammonium nitrate, then installing the detonator. The report reveals that SNHR has documented hundreds of incidents in which the Syrian regime used unfamiliar objects to fill these lethal bombs, such as iron ball bearings, anti-tank mines and explosive hoses, in addition to its use of barrel bombs containing poison gases in 93 attacks, and barrel bombs containing incendiary substances believe to be napalm in four attacks. The report presents a map showing the sites of the most prominent facilities where barrel bombs are manufactured.
The report notes that it took the UN Security Council about a year-and-a-half after the Syrian regime first began using barrel bombs, to adopt Resolution No. 2139 on February 22, 2014, which condemned the use of barrel bombs, mentioning them by name, and calling on the Syrian regime to cease their use. The Syrian regime has violated this resolution hundreds of times, however, with the Security Council signally failing to take any additional steps or implement the resolution it issued, with the report documenting that nearly 81,916 barrel bombs have been dropped by the Syrian regime’s helicopters and fixed-wing warplanes from July 2012 up until April 2021 ; of these, 21,013 barrel bombs were dropped before the adoption of Security Council Resolution No. 2139, and 60,903 barrel bombs were dropped since its adoption.
The report provides charts showing the cumulative index of barrel bombs’ usage and their distribution by years and across Syrian governorates, as well as the distribution of the record of barrel bombs across governorates by years. SNHR’s data analysis shows that the governorates of Damascus and Damascus Suburbs saw the highest number of barrel bombs used (approximately 29% of the total record), followed by Aleppo governorate (approximately 21%), then Daraa (approximately 14%) and Idlib (approximately 13%). According to years, meanwhile, 2014 saw the highest number of barrel bombs dropped, followed by 2015 then 2013, with these three years seeing the Syrian regime Air Force dropping at least 51,948 barrel bombs in total, meaning 64% of the total documented number of barrel bombs used.
The report documents the deaths of 11,087 civilians, including 1,821 children and 1,780 women (adult female), as a result of the Syrian regime’s use of barrel bombs from July 2012 up until April 2021, with the death toll among children and women constituting approximately 33% of the total death toll of civilian victims, which is a very high percentage that confirms the attacks targeted civilians. The report also provides charts showing the cumulative index of the death toll and its distribution by years and across Syrian governorates, as well as the distribution of the death toll across governorates by years. The analysis of the data showed that the largest death toll was documented in Aleppo governorate (approximately 52%), then Idlib (approximately 17%) and Daraa (approximately 11%). By years, meanwhile, the highest death toll was in 2014 and then in 2015, with the civilian death toll in these two years being approximately 69% of the total death toll.
As the report reveals, barrel bombs were used in at least 728 attacks on vital civilian facilities, including 104 attacks on medical facilities, 188 on schools, 205 on mosques and 57 on markets. The report provides the distribution of this record by years, which showed that the largest record of attacks on vital civilian facilities was in 2015, followed by 2014 then 2016.
As the report further notes, the brutal bombardment using barrel bombs, the destruction of homes and the state of terror that they cause, and their destruction and damage of vital facilities, have forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to be displaced from their areas, fleeing to seek safety for themselves and their families. The latest estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicate that approximately 13.3 million Syrians are now IDPs or refugees, while the report estimates that approximately 70%, i.e. 9.5 million, of the forcibly displaced persons, have been forced to leave their homes as a result of aerial bombardment launched mainly by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces, in which barrel bombs have played a central role due to their widespread use, indiscriminate nature and significant destructive impact.
The report emphasizes the Syrian regime’s direct responsibility for using barrel bombs, assigning responsibility primarily to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Armed Forces, his deputy, the Director of the Air Force, the Air Intelligence Department, the commanders of military airbases and the squadron directors, in addition to the directors of scientific research units, who bear the greatest responsibility for using this weapon; the report provides their names as individuals believed to be implicated in the crime of using barrel bombs.
The report stresses that the Syrian government has, beyond any doubt, violated Security Council Resolutions 2139 and 2254, and used barrel bombs in a systematic, widespread manner. Also, the Syrian government, through the crime of willful killing, has violated Article 7 of the Rome Statute in a systematic and widespread manner which constitutes crimes against humanity. The report adds that Syrian regime forces have violated the rules of international human rights law that guarantee the right to life. In addition, these violations were committed during a non-international armed conflict, meaning that they amount to war crimes, with all elements for this classification being fulfilled.
The report further adds that through the use of barrel bombs filled with poison gases, the Syrian regime has violated the rules of customary international humanitarian law which prohibits the use of chemical weapons regardless of the circumstances. Secondly, the Syrian regime has, beyond any doubt, violated the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which the Syrian government acceded to in September 2013, with, the use of chemical weapons constituting a war crime according to ICC’s Rome Statute.
The report stresses that none of the factors involved in the deployment of barrel bombs, whether the systematic, widespread, repeated nature of the bombardment, the excessive level of force used, the indiscriminate nature of the bombing or the coordinated approach of the attacks, would be possible without high-level orders and without such attacks comprising a part of state policy.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government, and to prosecute all those who provide it with money and weapons, more especially given the risk of these weapons being used in gross human rights crimes and violations.
The report also provides a set of recommendations to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI), as well as other additional recommendations.