The OPCW Proves the Syrian Regime’s Responsibility for the April 2018 Chemical Attack on Douma City
Press release: (Download the full report below)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights today released its monthly special report summarizing the human rights situation in Syria during the previous month, documenting the most prominent human rights violations committed by the parties to the conflict and the dominant forces in Syria in January 2023. Amongst other things, the report notes that the OPCW’s latest report has conclusively proven the Syrian regime’s responsibility for the April 2018 chemical weapon attack on Douma city.
The 25-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in January 20203, including the civilian victims, who were killed by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces during this period, in addition to providing a summary of the month’s arrests/detentions and enforced disappearances, along with other information. It also sheds light on the attacks on civilian objects which SNHR has been able to document during this period.
In compiling our reports, SNHR relies on continuous monitoring of incidents and news reports and on information gathered by a wide network of trusted contacts from dozens of diverse sources, in addition to exhaustive analysis of a large number of photos and videos.
In January, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 65 civilians, including 16 children and four women (adult female), most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents the killing of one medical worker and four individuals who died due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria. The report also documents two massacres which took place in January.
As the report reveals, January saw the documentation of no fewer than 178 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including 14 children and seven women. The majority were arrested or detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, then Damascus, and then Daraa.
The report further notes that January witnessed at least nine attacks on vital civilian centers, eight of them at the hands of Syrian regime forces, with most taking place in Idlib governorate. Two of these attacks targeted educational facilities, while three targeted places of worship.
The report additionally reveals that January saw an increase in the frequency of artillery attacks by Syrian regime forces on the Idlib region in northwestern Syria. This bombardment was concentrated on the villages and towns of the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the southern suburbs of Idilb, as well as in the western suburbs of Aleppo, Sahl al-Ghab in the western suburbs of Hama, and the northern suburbs of Latakia, which are close to the dividing lines with the armed opposition. The attacks by Syrian regime forces also targeted the villages and towns of the northern suburbs of Idlib and the western suburbs of Aleppo, which are distant from the dividing lines. In addition, the report also documents the continuation of Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) attacks on civilian-populated areas in the northern and eastern suburbs of Aleppo, and of ground-based attacks by Turkish forces and armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) forces targeting SDF-held areas in the northern suburbs of Aleppo, as well as the areas of Manbej and Ein al-Arab in the eastern suburbs of Aleppo, the villages that are administratively part of the Nahiyat Ein Eissa in the northern suburbs of Raqqa, and the area around Tal Tamr in the northern suburbs of Hasaka.
Regarding bombings, January saw more bombings carried out by unidentified perpetrators, as well as more explosions of live munitions left over from previous bombardment. These took place in the governorates of Aleppo, Idlib, and Deir Ez-Zour. January also saw more civilian deaths from landmine explosions across Syria, with those incidents being concentrated in the governorates of Hama, Daraa, and Aleppo this month, with a total of seven civilians, including six children, killed by landmines during this period.
Assassinations of civilians at the hands of as-yet unidentified gunmen also continued across Syria in January. These were concentrated in the governorates of Daraa, Deir Ez-Zour and Hasaka.
As the report also explains, the economic, living, service, and security conditions in Syrian regime-controlled areas continued to deteriorate in January. Residents in those areas are still grappling with scarcity and rising prices of heating materials, in tandem with increasingly cold weather conditions intensifying the need for heating resources. Moreover, January saw yet more fuel price rises. As the report further reveals, the Syrian regime continued to implement its rationing policies in most of its territories, while introducing new rationing polices regarding drinking water. Public life in regime-held areas has now come to an almost complete standstill due to the scarcity of both drinking water and fuel, with dozens of factories put out of commission by the lack of fuel and raw production materials. Pharmaceutical manufacturing plants have been worst affected, leading to a shortage of certain types of medications at pharmacies, further exacerbating the suffering of those suffering from disease or illness, especially cancer patients. Additionally, most of the regime-held territories are living in a state of chronic insecurity, with murders and thefts running rampant in light of the lack of any accountability mechanisms for criminals. In Suwayda city, popular protests also continued in January, with the protesters condemning the poor services and economic conditions and demanding the ousting of the Syrian regime and the release of detainees from its prisons.
Meanwhile, the report notes, civilians in northwestern Syria are also struggling due to the continuing deterioration of already harsh economic and living conditions. In January, some SNA factions continued to persecute the owners of land (olive groves) in the Afrin region and its suburbs, who are mostly of Kurdish ethnicity. In northeastern Syria, the living situation is also worsening. As with other Syrian regions, civilians in northeast Syria are grappling with price hikes for foodstuffs and essential supplies, with local authorities failing to regulate the market. Despite the cholera outbreak there, there has been no tangible efforts by the authorities in the region to improve the dangerously unsanitary drinking water supply.
As the report further details, the suffering of IDPs in northwestern Syria continued in January, both in relation to the humanitarian situation and to living conditions, especially in light of the worsening economic conditions and mounting aid needs that have reached unprecedented levels, even as the amount of aid from relief organizations has steadily shrunk. Further exacerbating this crisis, there has been an almost complete lack of job opportunities and waning purchasing power. In al-Rukban IDPs Camp, on the Syrian-Jordanian borders in eastern Homs governorate, the residents are still grappling with extremely difficult living conditions amid a severe shortage of food and medical supplies. On January 21, Syrian regime forces further tightened their siege on the area, denying the entry of flour, which put the camp’s main bakery out of commission.
The report stresses that the evidence collected suggests that attacks have been deliberately directed at civilians and civilian objects. The Syrian-Russian alliance forces have committed a large variety of crimes, from extrajudicial killings, to arrests, torture and enforced disappearances. The report notes that these attacks and indiscriminate bombardment by air and ground forces have caused the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, shops and other structures, and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crime of attacking civilians has been committed in many cases.
The report affirms that the Syrian regime has violated international humanitarian and customary law, and UN Security Council resolutions, in particular resolution 2139 and resolution 2042 related to the release of detainees, as well as resolution 2254, all without any accountability.
The report further notes that the continuing indiscriminate and disproportionate shelling carried out by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, with the group’s indiscriminate killings amounting to war crimes.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to take additional measures following the adoption of Resolution 2254, and stresses the need to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court and to hold all those involved accountable, including the Russian regime, all of whom have been proven to be involved in the commission of war crimes.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council should adopt a resolution on the prohibition of the use of cluster munitions and mines in Syria similar to the existing prohibition of the use of chemical weapons, which should include points on how to dispose of the remnants of these dangerous weapons.
The report also calls on all relevant United Nations agencies to make far greater efforts regarding humanitarian, food and medical assistance in areas where hostilities have ceased, in camps for internally displaced persons, and in the follow-up on funding from states which have pledged the necessary voluntary contributions.
The report further calls for the application of the principle of the responsibility to protect (R2P), especially after the exhaustion of political steps through all agreements, statements of cessation of hostilities and Astana agreements, stressing the need to resort to Chapter VII and apply the R2P principle, approved by the United Nations General Assembly.
The report additionally recommends that the International Independent Investigation Commission (COI) should open investigations into the incidents contained in this report and previous reports, and confirms the Syrian Network for Human Rights’ readiness to cooperate in any such endeavors and to provide more evidence and details. It also calls for the issue of mines and cluster munitions to be highlighted in the COI’s next report.
The report also calls on the UN Envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of crimes and massacres and to denounce those who are primarily responsible for the destruction of the agreements on reducing the escalation, as well as calling on him to restore the peace process to its normal form after Russia’s attempts to distort it and to present the Constitutional Committee to the transitional government.
The report also stresses the need for the Syrian regime to cease its indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, and its use of prohibited munitions and barrel bombs, and to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law.
The report further stresses the need for the countries supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces to press the SDF to cease all their violations in all the areas and towns under their control. In the report, the SNHR again calls on the Syrian Democratic Forces to immediately stop recruiting children, to hold all personnel involved in doing so accountable, and to undertake to immediately return all children arrested for military conscription to their families.
The report further recommends that armed opposition factions and the SNA should ensure the protection of civilians in all areas under their control, distinguish between military and civilian targets, and refrain from any indiscriminate attacks.
The report additionally stresses the need for humanitarian organizations to develop urgent operational plans with a view to securing dignified, safe shelter for internally displaced persons; and to provide care facilities and mechanisms such as medical establishments, schools and ambulances with markings visible from long distances, as well as making a number of other additional recommendations.