No fewer than 29,894 children killed in Syria since March 2011, including 182 children who died due to torture, while 5,162 children are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has released its 11th annual report on violations against children in Syria. Published on World Children’s Day, the report reveals that no fewer than 29,894 children have been killed in Syria since March 2011, including 182 children who died due to torture, while 5,162 children are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared. The report comes on the heels of the UN Secretary-General’s annual report for 2021 on ‘Children and Armed Conflicts’ that was submitted to the UN Security council in June 2022, which reveals that Syria is the world’s worst country in terms of conscription and use of children, the world’s second-worst country in terms of killing and maiming children, the third-worst country in terms of attacks on schools and hospitals, and the world’s fourth-worst country in terms of denial of humanitarian access.
The 55-page report notes that although Syria has ratified the 1993 Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its two optional protocols, the Syrian regime bears by far the greatest responsibility in terms of the number of crimes against children which were perpetrated in a manner that exhibits a clear pattern and demonstrates a systematic aspect in its violation of children’s rights, even if all parties to the conflict in Syria have been guilty of violating children’s rights. On that, the report stresses that the Committee on the Rights of the Child has to shoulder its responsibilities in monitoring the state of children’s rights in Syria and put an end to the Syrian regime’s violations.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, executive director of SNHR, says:
“For over 11 years, the armed conflict has had catastrophic effects on the children of Syria. This report reflects only a glimpse of these violations and their ramifications. It must be underlined that we did not expand on many of the rights of the Syrian children in light of the continued harrowing violations. We have monitored economic exploitation, violations of the rights of disabled children, and a drop in the levels of medical and educational care. All of these violations still need to be further highlighted and documented, and, of course, combated.”
The report sheds light on the catastrophic reality for children in Syria. To that end, it outlines the most notable human rights violations against children by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces between March 2011 and November 20, 2022, mainly focusing on the violations occurring between November 2021 and November 20, 2022, as documented on SNHR’s database. In this context, the report includes 15 first-hand accounts collected directly from eyewitnesses, rather than from any second-hand sources. Furthermore, the report draws upon the SNHR’s daily and ongoing monitoring of incidents and developments, and on on its verification, and collection of evidence and data, as well as its analysis of pictures and videos posted online.
Moreover, the report sheds light on SNHR’s cooperation with the UNICEF Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, and on our nomination of the Syrian-Kurdish girl Mathloum Na’san for the International Children’s Peace Prize 2022.
The report focuses particularly on gross and life-threatening violations as determined by the UN Security Council. Naturally, killing children is classified as the primary and most dangerous violation taking place in Syria, more especially considering the significantly high numbers of child victims. The second most dangerous violation is arrest/abduction which goes on to become enforced disappearance in the overwhelming majority of cases, and then torture. The report also examines child conscription and attacks on educational facilities, which result in children dropping out of the educational process.
The report documents the killing of 29,894 children at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria since March 2011, with 22,954 of these child victims killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while 2,046 children were killed by Russian forces. In addition, a total of 958 children were killed by ISIS, and 74 were killed by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Furthermore, the report adds, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was responsible for the killing of 243 children, while all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) killed 1,003 children. Lastly, 925 children were killed in attacks by international coalition forces, while 1,691 children were killed by other parties. Analyzing those figures shows that the Syrian regime has been responsible for 76% of all extrajudicial killings of children. As the report notes, 2013 saw the highest documented death toll among children, followed by 2013, then 2014, and then 2016.
With regard to arrest/detention, enforced disappearance, and torture, the report notes that no fewer than 5,162 children are still under arrest/detention and/or enforced disappearance at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces, divided as follows: 3,684 children are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared by Syrian regime forces, 46 children by HTS, 752 children by SDF, and 361 children by all armed opposition factions/SNA. The report adds that 319 of the children who are still forcibly disappeared were arrested by ISIS before the group became defunct for the most part in Syria. The report further notes that 2014 was the worst in terms of arrests/detentions and enforced disappearances involving children, with 61 percent of all arrests in that year made by Syrian regime forces.
As the report further reveals, children are subjected to torture from the very first moment of their arrests. Torture may or may not lead to the death of the detained children. In this context, the report records that 182 children have died due to torture in Syria since March 2011, including 175 children who died in Syrian regime detention centers, while two died in HTS detention centers, one at the hands of ISIS, one at the hands of SDF, and one at the hands of the armed opposition/SNA. Lastly, two children have died due to torture at the hands of other parties.
The report stresses that Syrian regime forces have used sexual violence against children, which has been manifested in various forms, highlighting the long-term physical and psychological effects of such traumatic abuse on child victims. In the period of time covered, the report has documented no fewer than 539 incidents of sexual violence against children.
As the report notes, the continuous bombardment by Syrian regime forces since March 2011 has resulted in the partial or complete destruction of no fewer than 1,119 schools and 30 kindergartens, most of which were put out of commission. Furthermore, the report additionally notes that Syrian regime forces and its allies have turned dozens of schools into military centers. The report also reveals that the worsening reality of education, the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of children and rampant poverty have all led to a rise in the levels of child labor, which has become one of the most widespread phenomena across all of Syria.
Additionally, Syrian regime forces have resorted to recruiting children since the early stages of the popular uprising, with the Syrian regime also facilitating child recruitment for foreign militias. To that end, the Syrian regime has not carried out any investigations or inquiries about child recruitment by these forces. As the report reveals, no fewer than 67 children have been killed in action as of November 20, 2022. The report also estimates that at least 1,425 child recruits are currently serving with Syrian regime forces. Of those, no fewer than 86 children have been recruited by Iranian militias or pro-Iran militias, including 24 children who were killed in action.
The report stresses that remnants of the weapons used by the Syrian regime and its allies in widespread and indiscriminate attacks against areas that broke free of its control continue to pose a serious threat to the safety and lives of civilians, especially children. At the top of this list are cluster munitions which have an indiscriminate nature. In this context, the report records that no fewer than 442 children have been killed either directly as a result of the attacks themselves in which the Syrian regime used cluster munitions or as a result of old munitions exploding in areas that were previously bombed using cluster munitions. The second most prominent threat of this nature is posed by landmines which have been planted by the various parties to conflict.
The report also stresses that he Syrian regime’s violations have caused a mass displacement affecting millions of Syrians. Northwestern Syria, which broke free of the regime’s control, houses the largest population of internally displaced people (IDPs), with children making up roughly 46 percent of IDPs. A large percentage of the displaced children were in fact born and brought up in camps, which means they lack the most basic life necessities, such as hygiene, privacy, proper bathrooms, and safe housing. Additionally, the dire shortage of health and educational facilities has further eroded the already minimal levels of healthcare available in those camps, with children forced to travel to other areas to receive healthcare, while education has become a very expensive luxury. As a result, diseases and illiteracy have become rampant issues among displaced children.
Moreover, the report notes that Russian attacks in which cluster munitions were used have resulted in the killing of 67 children since the start of Russia’s military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015. In addition, Russian attacks have caused damages to no fewer than 221 schools in the same time period.
The report also outlines the violations against children by HTS. In addition to killing and imprisoning children, the group has also established dozens of training centers and encouraged children to join its ranks, putting them through religious indoctrination courses to alter their beliefs in a manner that emulates the ISIS model. The group also took over many schools in in areas under its control and turned them into civilian or military centers. As the report further notes, three schools have been attacked by HTS as of November 20, 2022.
Furthermore, the report reveals that the SDF has also conscripted children in a widespread manner despite the fact that the Kurdish Self-Administration signed a joint action plan with the UN agreeing to put an end to child recruitment, and to release children already recruited. Additionally, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units signed a deed of commitment with the Geneva Call organization in 2014 banning the use of children in wars. Nonetheless, the group’s recruitment of children has not stopped. The report documents that no fewer than 213 children have been recruited by and are still active with the SDF since the group’s foundation. The report also reveals that the SDF has attacked no fewer than 16 schools as of November 20, 2022.
The report also outlines violations against children by all armed opposition factions/SNA. In addition to killing and imprisoning children, armed opposition factions have recruited children, taking advantage of their poor living conditions. According to the report, 12 children have been killed in action with armed opposition factions, while no fewer than 36 schools have been attacked by all armed opposition factions/SNA as of November 20, 2022.
The report stresses that despite the abundance of international instruments establishing and protecting human rights at all times, violations against children in Syria have not stopped for 11 years. All parties to the conflict have failed to respect those rules. The Syrian regime has not been deterred by those conventions, despite having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, from committing violations against children, some of which qualify as crimes against humanity through the acts of extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, torture, while others qualify as war crimes through the acts of forced conscription Furthermore, many of the violations committed by the other parties to the conflict against children could amount to war crimes if they were committed in the context of the conflict, and also as widespread violations of international human rights law if they were committed against children affiliated with those forces.
The report calls on the international community to ensure the protection of and aid for forcibly displaced children, both IDPs and refugees, especially girls and ensure their needs are met, particularly as regards protection.
The report stresses that all possible legal, political, and financial measures must be taken against the Syrian regime and its allies, as well as against other perpetrators of violations in the Syrian conflict, in order to put pressure on them to compel them to respect children’s rights. It also stresses the need for states to meet their financial pledges, to help the countries neighboring Syria and to provide every possible bit of support to improve the level of education and healthcare in those countries that are housing the largest proportion of child refugees. The report also calls for devising mechanisms to stop the bombing of schools and kindergartens, to protect those facilities, and to work on creating a safe educational environment.
The report also calls for coordinating humanitarian relief operations by focusing on the worst affected areas, and underlines the need to avoid falling prey to the pressure and exploitation by the Syrian regime that attempts to solicit aid in its own favor, as well as to secure the necessary resources to rehabilitate children, while placing especial emphasis on the special needs of girls who have been directly affected by violations, as well as making a number of other recommendations.