A Democratic Political Transition is the Principal Demand of the 12-Year Popular Uprising
Press release: (Download the full report below)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced today in a report marking the 12th anniversary of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria that it has documented the deaths of 230,224 Syrian civilians, including 15,272 who died due to torture, in addition to the arbitrary arrest/enforced disappearance of 154,817 others, while roughly 14 million citizens have been displaced. In the report, the group also stresses that a democratic political transition remains the principal demand of the popular uprising in its 12th year.
As the 40- page report notes, 12 years ago, the Syrian people took to the country’s streets to rightfully effect a political change that would enable Syria to break free from decades of hereditary dictatorship and move towards democratic elections, dignity, and freedom, finally escaping the authoritarian clutches of the ruling regime’s security apparatus. The Syrian regime’s immediate reaction to these peaceful protests was live bullets and widespread arrests, in which hundreds of demonstrators were arrested and brutally tortured. Indeed, many of those arrested in those early days died due to torture, while others went on to be classified as forcibly disappeared, maintaining that status to this very day. All of this happened while the UN Security Council and the international community passively stood by rather than putting an end to the Syrian regime’s violations which reached the levels of crimes against humanity. Eventually, the popular uprising was transformed into an internal armed conflict which was one of the reasons prolonging the Syrian tragedy.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Executive Director of SNHR, says:
“The 12th anniversary of the popular uprising against the Syrian regime is a sobering reminder of the ongoing suffering of the Syrian people and of how terribly long this conflict has lasted in light of the international community’s and the UN Security Council’s failure or unwillingness to find a resolution. The Syrian people have been left alone to face one of the most ruthless authoritarian regimes on the planet and others engaged in the armed conflict. The political process has been in deadlock for long years. Finding a resolution to the Syrian disaster is surely overdue. However, this cannot come about without holding the Syrian regime accountable as the main party responsible for the disheartening state that Syria and the Syrians have reached, with over half the Syrian people living in agony and in displacement.”
The report stresses the immense humanitarian cost that Syrians have paid and continue to pay in their quest for freedom, democracy, and a state of law, providing a summary of the toll of the most notable violations against the Syrian state and the Syrian people between March 2011 and March 2023 in light of the continued internal armed conflict. Moreover, the report emphasizes the fact that violations against Syrians have never stopped since 2011, and that the international community, most importantly the Security Council, has failed miserably in its efforts to bring about a resolution to the Syrian conflict that would ensure a democratic political transition, create the proper conditions for the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, and lead to the lifting of sanctions as the essential prelude for establishing security and stability.
The report notes that Syria’s regions have seen both gradual and rapid, major changes of control over the past 12 years in line with military developments, stressing that while the various parties to the conflict and controlling forces have all committed human rights violations in their quest to gain or maintain military control of certain areas, the Syrian regime and its allies have committed far more violations that any other party by a vast margin. In this context, the report includes a map that provides a rough indication of the extent and volume of the most notable human rights violations taking place in all the Syrian governorates since the uprising began in March 2011.
The report reveals that no fewer than 230,224 civilians, including 30,007 children and 16,319 women (adult female), were killed at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and March 2023. The Syrian regime was responsible for 201,055 of these deaths, with the victims including 22,981 children and 11,976 women, while Russian forces killed 6,950 civilians, including 2,048 children and 977 women. Meanwhile, ISIS killed 5,054 civilians, including 958 children and 587 women, while Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) killed 517 civilians, including 74 children and 79 women, and the Turkistan Islamic Party killed four civilians. All armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) were responsible for the deaths of 4,206 civilians, including 1,007 children and 885 women, while Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) killed 1,420 civilians, including 250 children and 169 women. Additionally, international coalition forces killed 3,051 civilians, including 926 children and 658 women, and finally 7,967 civilians, including 1,763 children and 988 women, were killed by other parties. The report also includes a running count of the civilian death toll and its distribution by year over the past 12 years. Analysis of the data shows that 91 percent of all victims were killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces and their allies, with roughly 56 percent of all victims being killed in the second and third year of the popular uprising (between March 2012 and March 2014). The report adds that roughly 52 percent of all the civilians documented killed were killed in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, Aleppo, and Homs.
As the report further reveals, among the victims were 874 medical personnel, approximately 83 percent of whom were killed by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces, and 714 media workers, approximately 78 percent of whom were killed by Syrian regime forces.
The report documents that no fewer than 154,817 of the individuals arrested by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since March 2011, including 5,199 children and 10,169 women (adult female) are still under arrest and/or forcibly disappeared. Of these, 135,253 individuals, including 3,691 children and 8,473 women, were arrested by Syrian regime forces, while 8,648 individuals, including 319 children and 255 women, were arrested by ISIS, and 2,426 individuals, including 46 children and 44 women, were arrested by HTS. Furthermore, 3,977 individuals, including 364 children and 873 women, were arrested by all armed opposition factions/SNA, and 4,513 individuals, including 779 children and 524 women, were arrested by the SDF. The report includes graphs showing the running count and distribution of the total arrests by year since March 2011 across all Syrian governorates.
The report also documents the deaths of 15,272 individuals due to torture, including 197 children and 113 women (adult female), at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria. Of these, 14,449 individuals, including 174 children and 74 women, died at the hands of Syrian regime forces, meaning that 99 percent of all documented torture victims were killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces. Meanwhile, 32 individuals, including one child and 14 women, died due to torture at the hands of ISIS, while another 32, including two children, died due to torture at the hands of the HTS, 53 individuals, including one child and two women, died due to torture at the hands of all armed opposition factions/SNA, and 90 individuals, including one child and two women, died due to torture at the hands of the Kurdish-led SDF. Finally, 27 individuals, including two children and one woman, died due to torture at the hands of other parties.
The report provides statistics on the use of four types of weapons: barrel bombs, chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and incendiary weapons, noting that Syrian regime helicopters and fixed-wing warplanes have dropped no fewer than 81,916 barrel bombs since the first documented use of this weapon on July 18, 2012, resulting in the deaths of 11,087 civilians, including 1,821 children and 1,780 women.
Additionally, the report documents 222 chemical weapons (CW) attacks in Syria since the first documented use of these internationally outlawed weapons in December 2012. The Syrian regime was responsible for 217 of these CW attacks, while the remaining five were carried out by ISIS. A total of 1,510 people, including 205 children and 260 women (adult female), have been killed in CW attacks by Syrian regime forces. A further 11,212 individuals were injured in CW attacks, with 11,080 of this total injured in attacks by the Syrian regime, while the remaining 132 were injured in attacks by ISIS.
On the subject of cluster munitions, the report notes that the Syrian regime and its ally Russia have used these internationally outlawed munitions heavily. The report records 496 cluster munition attacks since the first documented use of cluster munitions in July 2012. Of these 496 attacks, 251 were carried out by Syrian regime forces, while 237 were carried out by Russian forces, in addition to eight Syrian/Russian attacks. As the report reveals, cluster munition attacks resulted in the killing of 1,053 civilians, including 394 children and 219 women (adult female).
Finally, the report documents 171 attacks involving the use of incendiary weapons on civilian residential areas, including 41 attacks by Syrian regime forces, and 125 attacks by Russian forces, while the remaining five attacks were carried out by international coalition forces.
As the report further notes, the various parties to the conflict have subjected vital civilian facilities to targeted, indiscriminate and deliberate bombardment. Such acts of aggression against vital civilian facilities, the report adds, have not been limited to bombardment, with dozens of these facilities also being repurposed as military centers or detention centers by the parties to the conflict in areas under their control, which, in turn, made these facilities viable targets for other parties to the conflict. Since March 2011, the report recorded no fewer than 874 attacks on medical facilities, and 1,416 attacks on places of worship. The report also documented damage to 1,611 schools, some of which were targeted on multiple occasions. The report reveals that Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance forces have been responsible for roughly 87 percent of these attacks.
The report also reveals that more than half of the Syrian population has been forcibly displaced either as IDPs or as refugees, citing statistics from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which estimate that roughly 13.3 million Syrians have been forced to flee internally or seek asylum in other countries since the beginning of the popular uprising for democracy in March 2011.
On a related note, the report adds that the devastating earthquake which hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6, 2023, caused the forced internal displacement of approximately 90,000 Syrians, according to UN figures. The report also touches upon the subject of the politicization of the humanitarian aid issue since 2014, once again emphasizing that the delivery of humanitarian aid does not require any permission from the UN Security Council. The report notes that the delay by up to a week in the arrival of UN humanitarian aid resulted in the needless deaths of more people under the rubble of destroyed buildings, and significantly contributed to the worsening of the already dire humanitarian conditions in northwestern Syria.
As the report further reveals, while the Syrian regime has issued no fewer than 22 amnesty decrees since March 2011 these have only led to the release of 7,351 detainees, while no fewer than 135,253 Syrian citizens are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared by the regime. The report laments that the enforced disappearance issue is the ghost that haunts the families of the missing, with SNHR expressing serious concerns for the fates of nearly 112,000 Syrian citizens who are still classified as having been forcibly disappeared at the hands of the various parties to the conflict in Syria.
Moreover, the report stresses that Syria is not safe for its remaining residents, let alone for the return of refugees, noting that returning refugees are subjected to the same types of violations suffered by the people residing in Syria. The report explains that the primary reason for this lawlessness is the absence of law, and the domination of oppression, despotism, and the centralization of authorities. On a related note, the report documents the arbitrary arrest by Syrian regime forces of no fewer than 2,504 returning refugees, including 257 children and 199 women (adult females), on their return to Syria from their countries of asylum or residence between the beginning of 2014 and March 2023. The report also documented regime forces’ arrest of 984 IDPs on their return to their original areas, including 22 children and 18 women.
As the report further stresses, normalizing relations with the Syrian regime is an insult to the dignity of the state that does so, in addition to being a grotesque insult to the regime’s millions of Syrian victims. Such rehabilitation, as the report stresses, also constitutes a violation of international law since it is an act of support for a regime that has committed, and still is committing crimes against humanity against its people. The last three years, the report notes, have seen multiple attempts to rehabilitate the Syrian regime, spearheaded by Russia and its ally Algeria. These attempts have not been limited to states, but have also involved UN officials and international organizations.
The report concludes by stating that all parties to the conflict in Syria have violated both international humanitarian law and international human rights law, with the Syrian regime and its allies being the perpetrators of by far the largest number of violations. The report stresses that Syrian regime forces have perpetrated various violations that amount to crimes against humanity, ranging from extrajudicial killing to torture, forced displacement, and others, with all these crimes being perpetrated in a systematic and widespread manner at the same time. In addition, Syrian regime forces have committed war crimes through indiscriminate bombardment and the destruction of buildings and facilities. Since the Syrian regime has failed to uphold its responsibly in protecting its people from crimes against humanity and war crimes, the report affirms, it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene to t take protective measure collectively and decisively.
The report further notes that Russian forces have violated Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2254 through indiscriminate bombardment attacks, as well as violating many articles of international humanitarian law by committing dozens of violations that qualify as war crimes.
The report calls on the UN Security Council members to stop using their veto to protect the Syrian regime, which has committed hundreds of thousands of violations over the past 12 years, many of which constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. Furthermore, the report calls on all parties to the conflict and controlling forces to reveal the fate of the nearly 112,000 forcibly disappeared persons in Syria, 86 percent of whom have been forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime.
The report additionally calls for the Syrian issue to be by the UN Security Council to the United Nations General Assembly, as well as calling for the implementation of the ‘Uniting for Peace’ principle. Additionally, the report recommends that the Syrian issue should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and that all those involved in perpetrating crimes against humanity and war crimes should be held accountable. Furthermore, it asserts, serious efforts must be made to achieve a political transition under the Geneva Communiqué and Security Council Resolution No. 2254, to ensure the stability and territorial integrity of Syria, and the dignified and safe return of refugees and IDPs. The report further recommends that the UN Security Council should relinquish control over the delivery of UN cross-border humanitarian assistance, since this matter should be within the remit of the UN General Assembly and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The report calls on the international community to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC, or quickly establish a tribunal dedicated to trying crimes against humanity and war crimes in order to end the cycle of impunity in the country that has now spanned more than a decade i. Also, it stresses, real pressure should be applied on Russia and Iran, which should be categorized as key partners in the violations committed in Syria.
The report also calls on the international community to stop any attempt at forcibly returning Syrian refugees, since the situation in Syria continues to be exceptionally unsafe, stating that the international community should instead impose pressure to achieve a political transition that would ensure the automatic return of millions of refugees, and concluding with a number of other recommendations.