Russia’s Wholly Illegitimate Military Intervention Has Resulted in the Death of 6,910 Civilians, Including 2,030 Children, and Targeted 1,231 Vital Facilities
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has released its sixth annual report on Russian forces’ violations since the start of Russia’s military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015, in which SNHR states that some of these violations amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes, noting that Russia’s wholly illegitimate military intervention has resulted in the death of 6,910 civilians, including 2,030 children, and carried out 1,231 attacks on vital facilities.
The report stresses that Russia’s military intervention in the internal armed conflict in Syria is completely illegitimate, adding that Russia bases the supposed legitimacy of its intervention in the country primarily on two pretexts, namely that its intervention came at the request of the Syrian regime, which Russia asserts is a legitimate regime and speaks in the name of the state, and that the legitimacy of its presence is based on UN Security Council Resolution No. 2249 issued nearly two months after Russia’s military intervention, with this resolution calling on “Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures […] on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts […].”
However, SNHR asserts that Russia’s intervention remains illegitimate, primarily for the following reasons:
1- The approval of the state is not sufficient cause to validate the intervention through its request. Rather, the authority that extends such a request must be legitimate, with the Syrian regime lacking any such legitimacy, having seized power through sham elections staged under coercion, threat, repression and intimidation by the security services, and with no free and fair elections ever having taken place under its rule, and no constitution legally admissible under international law having been written. In addition to all these facts, the Syrian regime is involved in committing multiple crimes against humanity against the Syrian people.
2- Russia’s military intervention has violated Russia’s obligations under international law; by intervening alongside a regime involved in committing crimes against humanity, Russia is violating many peremptory norms of international law, making it an accomplice in the violations committed by the Syrian regime rather than an ally of a legitimate authority.
3- The Russian forces themselves have been involved in committing thousands of horrific violations in Syria, some of which constitute crimes against humanity, while some others constitute war crimes.
The 36-page report reveals that Russian support for the Syrian regime began from the earliest days of the Syrian popular uprising in March 2011 against the Syrian regime, by providing it with expertise, advice, and weapons, by repeatedly using its veto at the Security Council (Russia has used its veto 16 times in favor of the Syrian regime), and by permanently voting at the Human Rights Council against resolutions condemning the Syrian regime’s violence and brutality, and even mobilizing Russia’s allies to vote for the Syrian regime. Russian support for the Syrian regime has extended to various fields, including justifying the regime’s use of chemical weapons, questioning the reports of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, exploiting cross-border humanitarian aid, and harnessing media to promote propaganda in favor of the Syrian regime, attempting to improve its image of or flatly denying its violations.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“Russia has made a terrible mistake by standing by a repressive, authoritarian, sectarian regime, and involving itself in supporting and defending it, with Russia’s own forces even committing violations amounting to crimes against humanity. Russia must re-examine its illegitimate military intervention in Syria, launch investigations into the violations it has committed, and compensate the victims. There will be no stability in Syria and no return of refugees with the survival of the current Syrian regime, so support for it must end, and pressure must be put on it to reach a genuine political transition.”
The report provides an update on the record of the most notable human rights violations committed by the Russian forces since the start of Russia’s military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015, up until September 30, 2021. In assigning responsibility to Russian forces in relation to specific incidents, the report relies on a number of determinants, including cross-checking large quantities of information and statements published by Russian officials, in addition to cross-checking a large number of first-hand accounts, most of which come from central signal operators.
The report draws attention to the fact that Russian regime has declared on several occasions that Syria is an arena for testing Russian weapons. The report notes that Russian forces continue to bring in and use new weapons in the sixth year of Russia’s military intervention, with the report summarizing in some detail the Russian Krasnopol shell as a model of these new weapons, whose regular use has been extensively documented during the past year, as well as in the recent military campaign on the Jabal al Zaweya area and its vicinity in particular.
The report provides an analysis of the record of the most notable violations committed by Russian forces since Russia’s military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015, to September 30, 2021, according to SNHR’s database. In this context, the report documents the deaths of 6,910 civilians, including 2,030 children and 974 women (adult female), and at least 357 massacres. Analysis of the data shows that the first year of the Russian intervention saw the highest death toll, approximately 52% of the total record, followed by the second year of the intervention with approximately 23%. Meanwhile, Aleppo governorate saw the highest death toll with approximately 42%, followed by Idlib governorate with approximately 38%.
As the report reveals, Russian forces have killed 70 medical personnel to date, including 12 women, in addition to 44 Civil Defense personnel. The report also documents the deaths of 24 media workers at the hands of Russian forces, all of whom were killed in Aleppo and Idlib governorates.
As the report further reveals, Russian forces have carried out at least 1,231 attacks on vital civilian facilities since the start of Russia’s military intervention in Syria up until September 30, 2021, including 222 attacks on schools, 207 attacks on medical facilities and 60 attacks on markets. As the charts included in the report show, the first year of Russia’s intervention saw 452 attacks on vital civilian facilities, with Idlib governorate having seen the highest number of attacks on vital civilian facilities, reaching 616 in total – 51% of the total number of such attacks.
The report also documents at least 237 cluster munition attacks, in addition to at least 125 attacks with incendiary weapons carried out by Russian forces since their military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015.
As the report explains, the escalating violence inflicted by Russian forces has had the largest impact in terms of exodus and forced displacement, with Russian attacks, in parallel with attacks carried out by the Syrian-Iranian alliance, resulting in the displacement of approximately 4.7 million people, most of whom have been forcibly displaced multiple times.
As the report explains, Russia’s military intervention in favor of the Syrian regime, and the killing and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, assisted the Syrian regime to regain approximately 65% of the territories that had escaped its control since 2015 to date. The report provides maps showing the reality of the change of areas of control in favor of the Syrian regime in light of the years of Russia’s military intervention. The report further notes that the sixth year of the intervention saw a noticeable decrease in the intensity of military operations, which was reflected in the record of the violations committed. The report adds that during the sixth year of its military intervention, Russia has intensified its efforts to promote the idea of refugees returning in order to start the reconstruction process, but emphasizes that the Syrian regime does not actually want the refugees or IDPs to return, as it considers them to be its opponents, actively working to keep them outside the areas under its control, whether through continuous arrests of returnees, forcibly conscripting them into its forces, or confiscating the property of absentees. In addition, the conditions for safe, voluntary return set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have not yet been met with regard to Syrian refugees. The report stresses that these conditions will not be achieved as long as the regime of Bashar al Assad and the security services that are involved in crimes against humanity and war crimes continue to rule large areas of Syria.
The report concludes that the Russian regime has been and continues to be involved in supporting the Syrian regime, which has committed crimes against humanity against the Syrian people, by providing it with weapons and military expertise and through direct military intervention alongside it. The report explains that Russia has used its veto many times since its direct military intervention even though it is a party to the Syrian conflict, which is a direct violation of the Charter of the United Nations; these uses of the veto have been employed to provide Syria’s regime with impunity for its crimes. The report also stresses that Russian authorities have not conducted any serious investigations into any of the attacks included in this report or in previous reports. The report states that the Russian leadership, both military or political, bears responsibility for these attacks based on the principle of command responsibility under international humanitarian law.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court and to hold all those involved in perpetrating crimes accountable.
The report recommends that the international community should increase support for relief efforts. Additionally, the principle of universal jurisdiction should be applied in local courts regarding these crimes in order to conduct fair trials for all those who were involved. The report also recommends that the international community should support the political transition process and impose pressure to compel the parties to implement the political transition within a time period of no more than six months.
The report concludes by recommending that the international community should form an international civilized alliance outside the Security Council that aims to protect civilians in Syria from Russian and Syrian regime attacks, and expand political and economic sanctions against the Russian regime for committing war crimes in Syria, for continuing to violate sanctions imposed against the Syrian regime, in addition to making several more recommendations.