Russia, Iran, and Other Countries Supporting the Syrian Regime Should Provide It with Medical Supplies to Combat the Coronavirus Instead of Supplying It with Weapons, Forces, and Mercenaries
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states in its report released today, entitled: “Sanctions Are Linked to the Syrian Regime’s Continuing Violations and Don’t Include Medical Supplies and Food, Which Shouldn’t Be Delivered Through the Regime”, that Russia, Iran, and other states supporting the Syrian regime should provide it with medical supplies to combat the coronavirus instead of supplying it with weapons, forces, and mercenaries.
The 16-page report notes that the totalitarian states such as Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba are leading a campaign calling for the lifting or easing of the existing sanctions on the Syrian regime, even though the Syrian regime has not taken any actual steps to end its crimes against the Syrian people, such as, for example: releasing any of the arbitrarily detained citizens and prisoners of conscience in its prisons, ceasing its forces’ looting of the contents of homes in the areas where it has recently re-imposed control, or abolishing the exceptional courts and laws introduced by its legal organs to legitimize the theft of property. The report further notes that Iranian and Iraqi militias, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Russian mercenaries (from the Wagner Group) that support the Syrian regime are still dispersed across most Syrian governorates, with at least 95 percent of the forcibly displaced people unable to return to their homes due to the terrible destruction inflicted by Syrian Regime forces’ attacks, and the subsequent looting, pillaging and burning operations against these citizens’ properties by those forces after their owners fled in fear of execution, arrest, and forced conscription; the vast majority of these displaced people now live in hastily constructed, improvised and overcrowded camps vulnerable to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report outlines the Syrian regime’s most notable violations in March and April 2020, noting that these were the months during which the COVID-19 pandemic first expanded, with the aforementioned totalitarian states allied with the regime, along with some civil society organizations established by the regime and its allies, exploiting this deadly outbreak to demand that the existing sanctions be eased. All these factors provide further confirmation that the Syrian regime continues to commit multiple crimes even while demanding the lifting of the existing sanctions imposed to penalize it for such crimes.
As the report states, the Syrian regime killed 44 civilians, including six children, in March and April 2020, and its forces arrested 156 people, and committed at least four attacks on vital civilian facilities, including two schools.
The report further notes that the detainees in the Syrian regime’s detention centers are the group most at risk from the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic; despite calls by the United Nations and dozens of national and international human rights organizations urging the release of prisoners of conscience and detainees aged over 60 held in pre-trial detention, a policy adopted by a number of nations globally, including the regime-allied Iranian regime, which should act as an example to encourage Syria’s regime to do likewise, the Syrian regime has not released any of these detainees but has instead carried out additional arbitrary arrests, meaning that it has increased the total number of detainees in its detention centers, which exceeds 130,000 Syrian citizens.
The report stresses that Russia is clearly culpable in participating in the deliberate starvation of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians, noting two of the clearest examples amongst the vast amounts of evidence which plainly demonstrate this, namely first, obstructing the extension of the resolution to deliver aid across borders, with Russia and China opposing a draft resolution at the UN Security Council in December 2019 providing for the extension of Security Council Resolution 2165 that would allow the United Nations to deliver aid across borders; after exhaustive debate, both countries eventually agreed to extend the resolution to deliver aid across borders on January 10, 2020, but for a period of only six months, and only through two border crossings, instead of four crossings. The attack by the Syrian regime’s forces and its Russian allies on and around Idlib from mid-December 2019 up until April 2020 has so far caused the displacement of at least 1.1 million people from their homes. The report adds that in light of the worldwide spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially from March 2020, it is virtually impossible to imagine the extent of the harm that will be caused to millions of Syrians in areas outside the control of the Syrian regime in northern Syria if Russia succeeds in blocking the January 2020 extension of the resolution to provide cross-border aid; despite this, Russia is still threatening to hinder the extension of the resolution on delivery of cross-border aid during the next scheduled discussion of this subject in June.
As the report states, the second item of evidence demonstrating Russia’s involvement is its direct participation in the siege of numerous areas, deliberately starving their inhabitants, with Russian forces supporting the vast majority of violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime, specifically with regard to obstructing the entry of aid to the besieged areas; the Russian forces bombed the besieged eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, as well as participating in the sieges of the Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Suburbs governorate and of the northern suburbs of Homs city. Russian bombing has contributed in a decisive manner to the Syrian regime’s control of these areas, thus displacing the vast majority of their residents, with the displaced people now being additionally vulnerable to Covid-19 pandemic.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The Russian regime is involved in committing war crimes in Syria for two reasons: The first: Supporting the Syrian regime that is involved in committing crimes against humanity and war crimes and justifying these. Russian support has contributed to the Syrian regime’s committing further crimes and expanding them. The second: The Russian forces themselves have committed war crimes by killings or by indiscriminate or deliberate bombing of civilian facilities. Russia must stop supporting the Syrian regime, stop committing crimes, and support a political transition toward democracy and stability, and then it can demand the lifting of economic sanctions.”
The report notes that the while the Russian state has spent huge sums on its military operations in Syria, causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and the destruction of dozens of vital facilities, it does not provide any material assistance that contributes to rebuilding what the Russian war machine itself has destroyed, or to assist the displaced, or provide medical assistance to support its ally the Syrian regime in confronting the novel Coronavirus; instead, it calls on other countries to provide medical and humanitarian assistance and reconstruction funds. The report asserts that Russia and China should stand by their fellow totalitarian state and ally, the Syrian regime, in the provision of relief, as they stood and continue to stand alongside it militarily.
The report outlines five fundamental elements that significantly strip the Syrian regime’s claims to be providing humanitarian aid in the areas under its control of any plausibility, first of all its targeting of aid and Civil Defense workers with arrest, bombing, and killing, with the report noting that between March 2011 and the end of April 2020, Syrian Regime forces killed 893 humanitarian workers, including 669 medical personnel and 165 Civil Defense personnel. In addition, at least 3,327 individuals in these categories, including 182 women, are still detained or forcibly disappeared in the Syrian regime’s detention centers as of the end of April 2020. The report notes that since the beginning of the latest military campaign in and around Idlib alone, from the beginning of December 2019 until the end of April 2020, at least 24 attacks on medical facilities occurred, along with 23 others on vital Civil Defense facilities, all at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces.
The report also highlights the Syrian regime’s siege tactics in besieging areas, hindering the delivery and controlling the quantity of aid, and blackmailing the United Nations and humanitarian organizations in order to deliver aid, noting that local partners, which are the humanitarian organizations supervising the aid distribution in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime, are either affiliated with the Syrian regime or are closely monitored by its security services, which encroach on every aspect of Syrian society and the entire state, including humanitarian aid. The report stresses that given the current means of distributing aid, the Syrian regime is the primary beneficiary of the vast majority of aid provided at the expense of the most affected areas.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime is the primary and main party responsible for the Syrian economy’s current woeful state due to harnessing most of the resources of the Syrian state to preserve the ruling family and its absolute rule of power. These reasons are major factors in the collapse of the Syrian economy, in addition to the network of corruption and interests associated with the Syrian regime, which is engaged in large-scale looting of the capabilities of the Syrian state.
The report further notes that the Syrian regime and its allies are responsible for the deterioration of the medical sector through large-scale targeted operations affecting medical facilities, as well as by arresting, imprisoning or killing thousands of Syrian medical and rescue personnel.
As the report states, sanctions cannot be lifted as long as violations continue and serious progress has not been made in terms of basic human rights, or the initiation of any sign of political transition towards democracy that would guarantee stability and enable the safe and voluntary return of displaced persons and refugees. The report notes that the existing sanctions constitute a serious and effective form of pressure on repressive regimes and must be escalated and be accompanied by military sanctions, given the Syrian regime’s violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Security Council Resolution 2118.
The report notes that the Syrian regime has ruled the Syrian state since 1970 and penetrated into every aspect of the state and its institutions, so that it has become difficult to separate the regime from state organs and institutions; the Syrian regime has created an environment of laws and policies that have made the work of relief organizations in Syria essentially dependent on its patronage, making it almost impossible to circumvent it or work outside it, causing these organizations, as the report states, to violate the concepts of neutrality and independence, which are fundamental tenets of the four principles of humanitarian action. The report stresses that the continuation of humanitarian organizations’ work within the framework of policies established by the Syrian regime has contributed, throughout the past nine years, to the majority of the aid revenues ending up in the hands of the Syrian regime, thereby firstly reducing the effectiveness of the sanctions imposed on it, and secondly assisting it to continue to commit violations.
The report calls on Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and Iranian governments and the governments of other states supporting the Syrian regime to provide medical and relief assistance to the Syrian regime to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than the current military support, land forces, militias, and mercenaries they provide, and to end all forms of military and political support for the Syrian regime which is involved in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as urging Russian forces to stop committing such crimes before demanding the lifting of economic sanctions, to allow the extension of the UN Security Council’s resolution on delivering cross-border humanitarian aid, and to re-include the al Ya’rubiya border crossing with Iraq and the Nasib border crossing with Jordan, so that the Syrian al Jazira region and southern Syria benefit from it.
The report also recommends that the OCHA and international organizations operating in the Syrian regime-controlled areas should find a unified mechanism to coordinate aid assistance in a manner that compels serious negotiation on the part of the Syrian regime and rejects any partnership with organizations linked to its security branches or to the Ministry of Interior, or any entity established by figures affiliated with the Syrian regime, and to avoid any kind of work with organizations established by or subject to the security services, because this enhances the ability of these services to continue to fund their activities and commit more violations.
The report urges the states that have imposed sanctions on the Syrian regime to support the establishment of the aforementioned coordination mechanism, to form an advisory council to monitor the effectiveness of its work, and emphasizes that economic sanctions must be accompanied by a political administration and by serious moves within a strict time limit towards achieving the political process aimed at achieving a political transition towards democratic rule, and to evaluate sanctions periodically, adding individuals and companies that continue to support the Syrian regime and place them on the sanctions lists.
The report stresses the need to increase material support for local relief organizations in areas outside the control of the Syrian regime in light of the crisis of the novel Coronavirus, and to provide support directly to them free from the WHO’s bureaucracy, in addition to assisting humanitarian organizations operating there which are not able to negotiate unsupported with the Syrian regime and are forced to acquiesce to most of its conditions, by finding ways to pressure the Syrian regime to lift the security measures that it established with the aim of controlling the maximum proportion of aid and employing it in its favor.
The report recommends that the United Nations should impose UN sanctions on the Syrian regime if it continues to commit crimes against humanity and war crimes, and asserts that the United Nations should have no dealings with individuals, companies and bodies involved in committing violations. Here, it can be assisted by the data of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, the International, Impartial and Independent Investigative Mechanism and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, all of which are issued by the United Nations, and finally the report urges the United Nations to ensure that the issue of delivering cross-border humanitarian aid is not subject to veto power.