Mines Have Killed at Least 2,601 Civilians in Syria Since 2011, Including 598 Children and 267 Women, with Women and Children Accounting for 33% of All Victims
(Link below to download full report)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its report released today that Syria is among the world’s worst countries for the number of mines planted since 2011, despite the prohibition of their use in international law, noting that mines have killed at least 2,601 civilians in Syria since 2011, including 598 children and 267 women, meaning that 33% of the victims were women and children
The 16-page report explains that it is difficult to exactly assign responsibility for these killings to one specific party to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria in two cases, namely: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines, and remote bombings, including suicide or forced suicide attacks.
The report deals with anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines, which are weapons designed to be placed under or above the ground, then to explode because of the proximity of or contact with a person or vehicle. The report further explains that there are distinctive difficulties and challenges facing the SNHR’s staff which prevent us from being able to conclusively assign responsibility for killings caused by landmines to a specific party of the conflict, with the most prominent of these being, as the report reveals:
• Most of the parties to the conflict use this type of weapon.
• There have been multiple changes of control by parties to the conflict and forces over the areas where minefields exist, with none of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria publishing maps revealing the locations where they planted landmines.
As the report reveals, the parties to the conflict (except for the US-led coalition forces and the Russian forces) have used mines for almost 10 years, despite the international ban on their use. The report attributes that to the Syrian regime’s possessing tens of thousands of mines, in addition to the ease and low cost of their manufacture, which have enabled other parties to the conflict to use them extensively, showing absolute indifference to disclosing their locations or clearing them.
The report notes that the Syrian Network for Human Rights, as a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines – Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC), emphasizes its pursuit, within this international coalition, of a world free of the use of landmines and cluster munitions. In this context, the SNHR has monitored mine incidents for nearly 10 years to date, including determining the locations and types of landmines, and the casualties resulting from their explosion, with a plan underway to prepare maps providing the coordinates of the locations where mine explosions have occurred in various Syrian governorates, facilitating the work of local demining teams and helping to create greater awareness among the local population and local authorities in the areas affected to take all possible precautions and safety measures to avoid further such incidents.
This report shows the human losses suffered by the Syrian citizens caused by these mines, between March 2011 and December 2020, particularly highlighting the death toll of victims, including children and women, the medical, media and Civil Defense personnel, and their distribution according to the governorates in which they were killed, as well as highlighting some of the most prominent incidents caused by the explosion of landmines.
The report documents the deaths of at least 2,601 civilians, including 598 children and 267 women (adult female), killed since March 2011 due to hundreds of mine explosions in various Syrian governorates; among those killed, there were eight medical personnel, sic Civil Defense personnel, and nine media workers.
As the report reveals, most of the landmine victims were documented in Aleppo and Raqqa governorates, with the death toll from landmine explosions in both governorates comprising approximately 51% of the total death toll, meaning that half of the recorded fatalities from landmines in Syria have been killed in these two governorates, followed by Deir Ez-Zour governorate with approximately 16% of the total, Daraa with approximately 9%, then Hama with 7%. The report attributes the varying percentages between different areas to many factors, the most prominent of which is the changing nature of control over the areas by the parties to the conflict, and the multiplicity of the parties that controlled the same governorate, with Aleppo governorate being one of the governorates which saw the highest rates of shifting control among the various parties.
The report provides a cumulative chart showing the distribution of the death toll caused by landmines by years since 2011 to date, noting that that the highest death toll occurred in 2017, accounting for nearly one third compared to the other years, with casualties continuing to occur as a result of mines despite the decline in military operations; although several years have passed since mines were first planted in the context of the conflict, with many of these discovered by local organizations working to clear them, the report reveals that there are still numerous minefields and locations of mines that have not yet been discovered, which threaten generations of Syrians for decades to come, and with children being among the worst affected.
The report emphasizes that the continuing deaths and injuries resulting from mines underscore the widespread use of mines by various parties to the conflict in Syria, adding that many areas planted with mines have not yet been discovered, with the Syrian governorates which have seen the greatest number of changes in the controlling forces and the areas controlled by various forces being most vulnerable to the spread of mines, which pose a sustained threat to the lives of residents there, particularly children. The report additionally notes that more than a third of victims killed as a result of mine explosions in the Syrian conflict are women and children, once again underlining the indiscriminate nature of this weapon.
The report further notes that international humanitarian law has, since its inception, significantly restricted the use of landmines; the Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons also defined the rules of landmines’ use but has not prohibited them. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a number of NGOs have made great efforts to work towards an absolute ban on the use of mines, with these efforts culminating in the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention), which entered into force in March 1999, with 164 states are currently party to the convention, constituting the vast majority of the world states, making the international mine ban a binding international norm for all states and parties to the conflict, whether signatory or not.
The report further emphasizes that the use of mines violates the principle of distinction between civilian and military objects, and the principles of precautions and proportionality in attacks, with the failure to respect these provisions constituting a war crime under international humanitarian law and under the statute of the International Criminal Court.
As the report reveals, none of the perpetrator parties which have used mines in Syria have provided maps revealing where the mines were planted, nor have they worked seriously to remove them, most particularly the Syrian regime, which has not carried out any deliberate mine clearance operations despite recapturing large areas.
The report calls on all parties to the conflict to respect the rules of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, to stop planting mines targeting civilians and civilian objects, and to initiate mine clearance operations in areas under their control, especially in places where they planted mines and which are under their control or over which they have regained control and where they are aware of the mines’ locations. The report also calls on all the parties to the conflict to provide detailed maps of the locations where they planted mines, especially civilian sites or near residential communities.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council and International Community should increase logistical assistance to local organizations and local police working in the field of detecting and dismantling mines, to allocate a significant amount of money for clearing mines left over by the Syrian conflict from the United Nations Mine Action Service, particularly in areas prepared to carry out this task with transparency and integrity, to begin to compensate victims and their families, to focus on the psychological treatment process for survivors, and to support humanitarian organizations working in the field of psychological care.
The report stresses that there will be no stability and safety in Syria without achieving a political transition towards democracy and human rights in Syria.
The report also provides a set of recommendations to both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI).