Frost Wave Exacerbates IDPs’ Suffering in Northwest Syria, with No Return Possible as the Regime Security Services’ Inhumane Practices Continue
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its monthly special report summarizing the human rights situation in Syria, outlining the most notable human rights violations documented by the SNHR in January 2022 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, in which it notes that frost wave exacerbates IDPs’ suffering in northwest Syria, with no return possible as the regime security services’ inhumane practices continue.
The 30-page report outlines the most notable violations SNHR documented in January 2022, including the death toll of civilian victims who were killed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces, as well as the record of cases of arrest/ detention and enforced disappearances. The report also highlights attacks on civilian objects, which SNHR was able to document during this period.
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.
The report documents the deaths of 69 civilians, including 18 children, four women (adult female) and two medical personnel, in January 2022, with the highest percentage of killings being carried out at the hands of other parties. Among the victims were eight individuals who died due to torture, in addition to one massacre committed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria.
The report documents at least 143 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in January 2022 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, including two children, with the largest percentage of these carried out by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Damascus Suburbs then Daraa.
The report documents at least nine attacks on vital civilian facilities in January 2022, three of which were carried out at the hands of Russian forces, two by Syrian Democratic Forces, one by all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army, and three by other parties.
As the report reveals, January saw the continuation of the military campaign launched by Syrian-Russian alliance forces in Idlib region in northwest Syria since mid-2021, with Syrian regime forces’ ground attacks also continuing in January, concentrating in the Jabal al Zaweya area and the surrounding area, as well as in the towns and villages of the southern suburbs of Idlib.
The report adds that in the early days of 2022, the Russian Air Force intensified its attacks on areas in northwestern Syria. The Russian airstrikes’ intensity later gradually decreased, as SNHR monitored the absence of Russian warplanes from the region in the last quarter of the month. Most of the Russian raids targeted military headquarters of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, as well as vital facilities and civilian gatherings in northwest Syria.
As the report reveals, the villages and towns of the northern and eastern suburbs of Aleppo were subjected to attacks by Syrian Democratic Forces in the second half of January, which caused human casualties and material damage to the facilities there.
In terms of bombings, during the course of January, we documented several bombings, whose perpetrators we have so far been unable to identify, in the governorates of Aleppo and Hama.
The report notes that January saw continuing civilian deaths due to explosions caused by landmines and munitions remnants in various governorates and regions of Syria. SNHR documented the deaths of four civilians, including three children, resulting from landmine explosions in January. The report also records killings of civilians in the villages and towns of the eastern suburbs of Deir Ez-Zour by unidentified gunmen believed to be affiliated with ISIS. In addition, the report records killings by persons whose identities SNHR were unable to identify in the governorates of Daraa, Aleppo, and Deir Ez-Zour, due to the deteriorating security situation, in addition to the continued killings in al Hawl Camp.
The report reveals that on January 20, ISIS blew up two car bombs, one of which targeted the gate of Ghwayran prison (al Sina’a Prison) while the second blew up about 200 meters from the prison, located in the Ghwayran neighborhood of Hasaka city. The two explosions were followed by an attack by ISIS-affiliated gunmen using machine guns, who attacked the prison which is under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces. Clashes between members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIS elements continued for several hours, coinciding with an insurgency within the prison by the ISIS detainees, which ended with ISIS taking control of the prison completely. The clashes then spread to the neighborhoods of Ghwayran and al Zohour in Hasaka city, after ISIS elements spread in these neighborhoods, during which the US-led coalition warplanes launched raids targeting the ISIS sites of gathering in the two neighborhoods. The most prominent of these sites was the building of the Faculties of Economics and Civil Engineering/ al Furat University in Hasaka. On January 26, Syrian Democratic Forces announced the restoration of full control of Ghwayran prison and the surrender of all ISIS elements. As the report reveals, the clashes caused the displacement of at least 40,000 civilians from the neighborhoods of Ghwayran and al Zohour, which are under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces, with the displaced civilians heading towards the center of Hasaka city and the eastern suburbs of Hasaka.
The report notes that the living and economic situation has worsened in all regions of Syria, coinciding with snowstorms and a drop in temperatures to record levels of cold compared to previous years, with the already severe suffering of civilians increasing in light of the harsh weather conditions and the acute shortage and high prices of heating materials.
In northwestern Syria, the deteriorating economic situation and increases in the prices of basic services led to several demonstrations in the region. In addition, the areas controlled by Syrian Democratic Forces are still witnessing increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs, in addition to bread shortages, which exacerbates the deterioration of the already poor living conditions there. Several demonstrations took place in the cities, towns and villages of Deir Ez-Zour suburbs throughout the month, calling for an improvement in the living situation and the release of detainees.
In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, January saw a decrease in documented COVID-19 infections across Syria compared to previous months. As the report reveals, the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Health officially announced 1,124 cases of COVID-19 infection and 92 deaths in January. The report adds that more infections and deaths due to coronavirus were recorded in January in northwestern Syria, with the Early Warning Alert and Response Network (EWARN) announcing the documentation of 116 infections and 44 deaths related to COVID-19 as of January 30. As for northeastern Syria, the Self-Management’s Health Authority announced that it had documented a total of 289 cases of infection and 20 deaths in January.
In regard to asylum, displacement and forced displacement, the report notes that the northwestern region of Syria, including the IDP camps, witnessed in January a wave of frost, snow and rainstorms, which caused the collapse of many tents and damaged or destroyed others. The accumulation of snow also caused the closure of roads between the camps, with some of these camps completely cut off from their surrounding areas. The report also records the outbreak of several fires in the IDP camps in northwestern Syria, as a result of the camp residents’ dependence on refined and unsuitable fuel for heating, documenting several deaths, including children, as a result of these fires.
In al Hawl Camp, on January 16, Syrian Democratic Forces allowed one group of people to leave al Hawl Camp in the eastern suburbs of Hasaka and return to their villages and towns; this group consisted of 53 families or approximately 217 individuals, from the villages and towns of the suburbs of Deir Ez-Zour. This was the twenty-second such group since the Syrian Democratic Forces’ Self-Management Authority’s decision to empty al Hawl Camp was announced in October 2020. In addition, two fires broke out in al Hawl Camp in January, but we could not determine their cause.
The report further reveals that evidence gathered by SNHR indicates that attacks have been directed against civilians and civilian objects, with Syrian-Russian alliance forces continuing to commit various crimes of extrajudicial killing, arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance. In addition, the indiscriminate attacks they have carried out caused the destruction of various facilities and other buildings. 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 a number of UN Security Council resolutions, particularly resolutions 2139 and 2042 concerning the release of detainees, as well as resolution 2254, all without any accountability.
The report adds that the instances of indiscriminate and disproportionate bombardment carried out by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are considered to be in clear violation of international humanitarian law, with such indiscriminate killings amounting to war crimes.
The report calls on the UN 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 calls on the Security Council to adopt a resolution banning the use of cluster munitions and landmines in Syria, similar to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and to include advice on how to safely remove the remnants of such dangerous weapons.
The report additionally 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 person camps, and to follow up with those States that have pledged voluntary contributions.
The report calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine 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 to implement the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly.
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 on the COI to focus on the issue of landmines and cluster munitions within their next report.
The report also calls on the United Nations Special Envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of crimes and massacres and those who were primarily responsible for dooming the de-escalation agreements, to reschedule the peace process so that it can resume its natural course despite Russia’s attempts to divert and distort it, through empowering the Constitutional Committee prior to the establishment of a transitional governing body.
The report also emphasizes that the Syrian regime must stop its indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, and stop using prohibited munitions and barrel bombs, as well as complying with UN Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law.
The report stresses that the states supporting Syrian Democratic Forces should apply pressure on these forces in order to compel them to cease all of their violations in all the areas and towns under their control, adding that Syrian Democratic Forces must immediately stop conscripting children, hold the officers involved in such violations accountable, and pledge to return all children who have been arrested for conscription immediately.
The report also calls on all Armed Opposition factions and the Syrian National Army to ensure the protection of civilians in all areas under their control, and calls on them to take care to distinguish between civilians and military targets and to cease any indiscriminate attacks.
Lastly, the report stresses the need for humanitarian organizations to develop urgent operational plans to secure decent shelter for internally displaced persons, and to provide protected facilities and vehicles, such as medical facilities, schools, and ambulances, with distinctive signs that can be distinguished from long distances, as well as making several additional recommendations.