Russian Military Escalation Is the Largest in a Year
(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 177 civilians, including 28 children, 35 women, one medical worker, and nine victims due to torture, in Syria in March 2021, with the SNHR further noting that the Russian military escalation during this period was the largest in in a year.
The 25-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 March 2021, particularly focusing on the victims amongst children and women, and those who died due to torture.
As the report reveals, 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 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, March saw continuing civilian deaths as a result of landmine explosions in different governorates and regions of Syria, with SNHR documenting the deaths of 51 civilians, including six children and 20 women, bringing the civilian death toll caused by landmines since the beginning of 2021 to 85, including 28 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 population about them
The report notes that camp conditions continue to worsen in winter, due to the rain and flooding of the tents, in addition to the fires caused by the unsafe heating methods used in camps. The report adds that al Hawl Camp saw the continuation of killings by unknown gunmen, with 26 civilians killed in the camp in March, including eight children and eight women, at the hands of unknown gunmen who are believed to be affiliated with ISIS cells.
As the report further reveals, March also saw the largest Russian military escalation in nearly a year, with the report documenting that on March 21, the Syrian-Russian alliance forces, in a sudden military escalation, launched air and ground attacks targeting civilian areas outside the Syrian regime’s control in northwest Syria; these areas contain vital installations and facilities, with most of the facilities targeted in March being bombed for the first time, and with these attacks causing civilian casualties.
As the report explains, the SNHR’s Victim Documentation team has documented the deaths of 177 civilians, including 28 children and 35 women (adult female) in March. This figure is broken down according to the perpetrators in each case, with 28 of the civilian victims, including three children and three women, killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces, six civilians killed at the hands of Russian forces, four civilians, including one child and one woman, killed at the hand of Syrian Democratic Forces, and two civilians killed at the hands of ISIS. In addition, the report documents the death of one civilian (a woman) at the hands of the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army, and 136 civilians, including 24 children and 30 women, at the hands of other parties.
Also in March 2021, as the report reveals, the SNHR’s working team documented the deaths of nine victims due to torture, with all of these victims killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces.
The report also documents in March the death of one medical worker by gunfire from an unknown source, and one Civil Defense worker at the hands of Russian forces.
The report further documents four massacres in March, one at the hands of Syrian regime forces, and the other three at the hands of other parties; the massacres documented in March 2021 resulted in the deaths of 41 civilians, including seven children and 21 women (adult female).
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 1,254 cases in Syria due to the COVID-19 as of March 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 the attacks documented were directed against civilians and civilian objects. Syrian-Russian alliance forces have committed various crimes ranging from extrajudicial killings to detention, torture and enforced disappearance. Their attacks and 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 stresses that the Syrian government has violated international humanitarian law and customary law, and all UN Security Council resolutions, particularly resolution 2139, resolution 2042, and resolution 2254, all without any accountability.
As the report also notes, ISIS has violated international humanitarian law by killing civilians, while Syrian Democratic Forces carried out attacks that are considered violations of international humanitarian law, with the crimes of indiscriminate killing amounting to war crimes.
The report adds that the use of explosive arms to target densely populated areas reflects a criminal and wholly deliberate mentality intended to inflict the greatest possible number of deaths, which is a clear contravention of international human rights law and a flagrant violation of the four Geneva Convention (articles 27, 31, 32).
The report calls on the 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’ after all political channels have proved fruitless through all agreements, the Cessation of Hostilities statements, and Astana agreements that followed, stressing the need to resort to Chapter VII, and implement the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly.
The report 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 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, with the report 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 residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, as well as ending the 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 planted landmines, especially civilian sites or areas near residential communities, as well as making several additional recommendations.