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Seventh Annual SNHR Report on Russian Forces’ Violations since the Beginning of Russia’s Military Intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015

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SNHR Documents the Deaths of 6,943 Civilians, Including 2,044 Children and 1,243 attacks on Vital Civilian Facilities at the Hands of the Russian Forces

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Press release: (Download the full report below)

Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights today issues its seventh annual report on the most notable Russian forces violations since the beginning of Russia’s military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015, has documented the deaths of 6,943 civilians, including 2,044 children and 1,243 attacks on vital civilian facilities at the hands of these forces.

The 33-page report noted that since the early days of the people’s uprising for freedom, Russia has opposed the people’s wishes for democratic change in Syria, using various, and sometimes contradictory, justifications. Russia has provided the Syrian regime with all kinds of logistical, political, economic and military support. There is no doubt that Russia has played a decisive role in consolidating the Syrian regime’s hold on power and impeding any political progress towards democracy, which has enabled the regime to simply disregard negotiations, especially after recapturing large areas of the Syrian territories over which it had previously lost control, thanks to Russia’s military might. The report adds that Russia has abused its UN veto against the interests of the Syrian people to protect the Syrian regime 17 times to date, four of these before its direct military intervention in Syria, and 13 since. Russia has also voted in all the UN Human Rights Council sessions during which it was present, 21 times in all, against all the council’s resolutions condemning the Syrian regime’s violence and brutality, even mobilizing its allies, including Algeria, Venezuela, Cuba and other dictatorial countries to vote in favor of the Syrian regime.

Fadel Abdul Ghany, SNHR’s Executive Director, says:
“Following the Illegitimate military intervention of Russia in Syria, and its committing horrible atrocities including the bombardment of hospitals and residential neighborhoods and killing hundreds of civilians, the West did not impose any sanctions against Russia because of all those violations, some of which amount to crimes against humanity. We believe that the sense of impunity Russia has for the crimes it perpetrated in Syria encouraged it to move forward with its policy and violate international law in Ukraine. Russia must be held accountable for what it has done against the Syrian people and state.”

The report includes an update on the most notable human rights violations perpetrated by the Russian forces since its military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015 up to September 30, 2022. The report’s assignment of responsibility for attacks to the Russian forces relied on cross-checking a large number of information, statements made by Russian officials, and gathering a large number of first-hand accounts, especially the accounts of the central radar workers.

The report reveals that, as documented by SNHR’s database, the Russian forces have killed 6,943 civilians, including 2,044 children and 977 women (adult females), and committed no less than 360 massacres. The analysis of the data shows that the first year of the Russian intervention saw the highest death toll, accounting for around 52% of the total number of deaths, followed by the second year of intervention with around 23%. Aleppo Governorate suffered the highest death toll, followed by Idlib. Statistics indicate that around 79% of the total death toll occurred in these two governorates – about 41% in Aleppo and 38% in Idlib.
The report also documents the death of 70 medical personnel, including 12 women (adult females), at the hands of the Russian forces, mostly in Aleppo governorate, with the highest annual death toll of medical personnel documented in the first year. In addition, the report documents the death of 44 Civil Defense members (White Helmets), half of whom were killed in Idlib governorate, where the highest death toll was recorded. The first year of Russia’s intervention witnessed the highest number of casualties, around 35% of the total. The report also documents the deaths of 24 media activists, all of whom were killed in Aleppo and Idlib governorates.

As the report reveals, since Russia’s initial intervention up until September 30, 2022, Russian forces have perpetrated no fewer than 1,243 attacks on vital civilian facilities, including 223 schools, 207 medical facilities, and 60 marketplaces. The statistics provided in the report show that the first year of the intervention saw 452 attacks on vital civilian facilities, with Idlib suffering the largest number of attacks on vital civilian facilities, an exceptionally high total of 626 in all, accounting for 51% of the total attacks documented.

The report also notes that Russian forces have perpetrated at least 237 attacks using cluster munitions and at least 125 attacks using incendiary munitions since Russia’s military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015.

The report further reveals that the escalating violence practiced by Russian forces has had the largest impact in terms of forced displacement movement. Russian attacks, in parallel with the attacks launched by the Syrian-Iranian alliance contributed to the displacement of approximately 4.8 million people, most of whom are civilians who have been displaced several times.

The report stresses the illegitimacy of the Russian military intervention in the internal conflict in Syria, and notes that Russia constantly proclaims to the world that its intervention in Syria is legal, based on the Syrian regime invitation asked Russia to intervene militarily, suggesting falsely that the Syrian regime is a legitimate government. Russia also relies on UN Security Council Resolution 2249 of November 2015, which was adopted nearly two months after its intervention. The resolution called upon “Member States that have the capacity […] to take all necessary measures […] to prevent and suppress terrorist acts […] on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq.” The report demonstrates, however, that the Russian military intervention in Syria is illegitimate, mainly for the following reasons:
1. For the intervention to be validated by invitation, the approval of the state is not sufficient. Rather, the authority that made the invitation must be legitimate. The Syrian regime seized power through elections that were held under the threatening, repression and terror by security services, with no free and fair elections taking place, or any constitution being legally written. It is a dictatorship that is hostile to the most basic principles of human rights. In addition to these points, the Syrian regime is involved in committing crimes against humanity against the Syrian people, according to the reports of the UN Commission of Inquiry, with these and many other reasons challenging the legitimacy of the current Syrian regime.
2. Russia’s military intervention violates Russia’s obligations under international law. Russia’s intervention on the side of a regime involved in crimes against humanity, including torture, the use of chemical weapons, enforced disappearance, etc., violates many fundamental norms of international law and even makes it an accomplice to the violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime.
3. The Russian forces themselves have committed thousands of heinous violations in Syria, some of which, such as extrajudicial executions and enforced displacement, constitute crimes against humanity. Other crimes perpetrated by Russian forces, such as bombing hospitals and civil defense centers, constitute war crimes. This has been documented by many international reports, as well as by SNHR reports and data.

The report notes that Russia has exerted huge diplomatic efforts to block any political solution, from the Geneva Communiqué up until now. It tried to create a political process under its control, that has become known as the Astana Process. It has also contributed to minimizing the political solution and limiting this to a constitutional committee that has failed to draft one line for years. The report emphasizes that Russia is seeking to help the Syrian regime control the UN aid allocated to northwest Syria and looting as much of it as possible, Russia used its veto over the past year against renewing the mechanism for cross-border aid delivery, specifically for the fourth time in this regard.

The report underscores that Russia, and the Syrian regime have continued to promote the false idea that Syria is safe and stable in the areas under the Syrian regime’s control, and is ready to receive returning refugees. The Syrian regime, at Russia’s request, has continued its promotional campaign for the “return of refugees” by holding a series of meetings for what they referred to as “the International Conference on the Return of Syrian Refugees,” the latest of which was the Fourth Conference, which was held on 14 June, 2022, entirely disregarding the fact that they, the Russian and Syrian regimes, are the cause of the destruction and displacement of millions of Syrians. Russia has also aimed, through its close ally, the Algerian regime, to bring back the Syrian regime to the Arab League, but has so far failed to do so.

The report highlights the fact that Russian officials have stated on several occasions that Russia is experimenting new munitions in Syria and that this contributes to the increase of the Russian forces’ combat capabilities. In the seventh year of its intervention in Syria, the Russian forces announced the introduction of new, high-quality weapons to their military arsenal after confirming their effectiveness and testing them in Syria.

In the report ‘s conclusion, it states that the Russian regime has been involved in supporting the Syrian regime, which has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian people by providing it with weapons and military expertise and direct military intervention to the side of the regime. The report further states that Russia has used its right to veto many times despite becoming a party to the Syrian conflict, which is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations. All of Russia’s vetoes have been employed by the Syrian regime to enjoy impunity. The Russian authorities have not conducted any serious investigations into any of the attacks included in this report or in previous reports. The Russian leadership, both military and political, bear responsibility for all of 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 case to the International Criminal Court and to hold all those involved accountable. It further calls on the international community to increase support for relief efforts, and to endeavor to employ universal jurisdiction for those crimes within national courts in fair trials to hold all perpetrators to account and support the political transition process, and to impose pressure on all parties to oblige them to implement the political transition process within no more than six months.

The report recommends that the COI conduct extensive investigations into the incidents included in this report and to clearly hold the Russian forces responsible if sufficient evidence is found of their involvement. It further calls on the European Union to impose economic sanctions on Russia for the crimes against humanity and war crimes it has perpetrated in Syria, in addition to making a number of other recommendations.

Download the full report

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