The Syrian Regime Exploits the Earthquake Disaster to Steal Relief Aid and Promote Political Propaganda to Break its Political Isolation
Press release: (Download the full report below)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its monthly special report summarizing the human rights situation in Syria during the previous month. The report outlines the most prominent human rights violations committed by the parties to the conflict and the dominant forces in Syria in February 2023. Amongst other things, the report notes that the Syrian regime exploits the earthquake disaster to steal relief aid and promote political propaganda to break its political isolation.
The 18-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in February 2023, including statistics on 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 February, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 81 civilians, including eight children and four women (adult female), most of whom were killed by Syrian regime forces. Among these, the report documents the killing of two medical workers 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 one massacre that took place in February.
As the report further reveals, February saw the documentation of no fewer than 137 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including six children and three women. The majority were arrested or detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, then Damascus, and then Daraa.
The report notes that, on February 6, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck Southern Turkey and Northern Syria, only to be followed by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake about 11 hours later. The epicenter of the earthquakes was located in the area of Kahramanmaraş in midsouth Turkey, near the Turkish-Syrian borders, with the two earthquakes and the subsequent aftershocks causing massive human and material losses. The region of northwestern Syria was one of the areas worst affected by the earthquake due to the severe overpopulation there. These conditions were worsened by the existing fragility of building structures in those areas which had already been targeted by the regime and its allies constantly and repeatedly. As the report notes, SNHR believes that one of the reasons why so many people died needlessly due to being trapped under the rubble of buildings which collapsed due to the earthquake was the late arrival of UN aid, the first of which arrived four days after the disaster. The report adds that around 160,000 Syrians lost their homes according to SNHR’s estimates, with most of these people having already been displaced previously, often on multiple occasions, and already suffering due to the dire living conditions in the region.
The report stresses that, since the very first hours after the earthquake, the Syrian regime has exploited the catastrophe for political and financial gains. Many human rights groups have warned of the theft being carried out by the Syrian regime of the relief aid donated and intended for the victims of the earthquake in Syria. The Syrian regime did not send any of the relief aid it received to the areas outside its control, despite the severe damage in those areas, which were the worst affected in Syria. The Syrian regime has also used the earthquake as an opportunity to cover up the devastating destruction caused by its military operations in the areas where the regime regained control, with regime authorities demolishing hundreds of buildings under the pretext that they had suffered fractures or other damage in the earthquake rather than due to earlier bombardment by the regime and its allies.
Moreover, the report notes that February saw a relative decline in the frequency of artillery attacks by Syrian regime forces, with the regime’s artillery attacks during the month concentrated on the villages and towns of Jabal al-Zawiya in the southern suburbs of Idlib and western suburbs of Aleppo, as well as Sahl al-Ghab in the western suburbs of Hama and the northern suburbs of Latakia, all of which areas are close to the dividing lines with armed opposition factions. The report also documents a massacre by pro-regime Iranian militias who shot dead at least 40 civilians, including women, whose bodies were found on February 17 in an area to the east of al-Sakhna town in the eastern suburbs of Homs; they were murdered over disputes related to the militias’ seizure of the dessert truffles harvested by the victims.
The report also documents more ground-based attacks by Turkish forces and armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) forces on areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the northern suburbs of Aleppo, as well as the areas of Manbej and Ein al-Arab in the eastern suburbs of Aleppo, and Ein Eisa in the northern suburbs of Raqqa.
Meanwhile, more civilians were killed by landmines across Syria, mostly in Deir Ez-Zour governorate. In February, a total of six civilians, including one child, were killed by landmines across Syria, bringing the 2023 total death toll for victims killed by landmines to date to 13 civilians, including seven children.
February also saw more assassinations of civilians at the hands of unidentified gunmen across Syria, with these killings concentrated in the governorates of Aleppo, Hasaka, and Daraa.
The report additionally reveals that, in February the economic, living, service, and security conditions continued to decline across all sectors in the Syrian regime’s areas of control. The earthquake that hit the area on February 6 caused severe damage, halting the provision of most services, and leading to a a power outage that lasted for a few days in many of the affected areas and districts. The earthquake also caused of water tanks in some areas to collapse, cutting off the local residents’ water supply.
Additionally, the report notes that, in Suwayda city, demonstrations continued throughout February, with the protestors condemning the poor services and economic conditions, and calling for the ousting of the Syrian regime and the release of detainees.
The report also notes that, in northwestern Syria, civilians’ already severe suffering continues to worsen due to deteriorating economic and living conditions in parallel with rising prices for food and grocery supplies. All of the services operating in the region have been adversely affected in the wake of the earthquake. The situation in Northeastern Syria is similarly dire, with worsening living and security conditions. Prices of food, fuel and other essential commodities in the region continue to rise due to the controlling forces’ failure to regulate the market.
As the report further explains, the suffering of IDPs in northwestern Syria continued to worsen in February, in relation to both living conditions and the humanitarian situation, especially in the wake of the February 6 earthquake, which caused new waves of displacement among the population. In al-Rukban IDP Camp on the Syrian-Jordanian borders in eastern Homs governorate, meanwhile, the residents also continue to grapple with extremely difficult living conditions, and a severe shortage of food and medical supplies, as the Syrian regime continues to restrict the entry of flour. Fuel prices in the stricken camp also saw yet another increase in February in tandem with the low temperatures, further deepening the residents’ suffering.
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 facing 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 also include information on how to dispose of the remnants of these lethally 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 following up on securing funding from those 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.
Furthermore, the report 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.