Rainstorms and Windstorms Kill Two IDPs and Further Devastate IDP Camps and Traumatize Earthquake Victims in Northwestern Syria
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) 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 March 2023. Amongst other things, the report notes that rainstorms and windstorms killed two internally displaced persons (IDPs) and further devastate IDP camps and traumatize earthquake victims in northwestern Syria.
The 20-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in March 2023, 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 March, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 96 civilians, including 15 children and six women (adult female), most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents the killing of one Civil Defense (White Helmets) rescue worker and seven civilians due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria. The report also documents four massacres which took place in March.
As the report further reveals, March saw the documentation of no fewer than 164 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including nine 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 further notes that March witnessed at least five attacks on vital civilian centers, all at the hands of Syrian regime forces, with most taking place in Aleppo governorate. One of these attacks targeted a school, while another targeted a place of worship.
The report additionally reveals that March saw an increase in the rates of artillery bombardment by Syrian regime forces on northwestern Syria. To that end, the report documented separate attacks focused on the villages and towns of Jabal al-Zawiya in the southern suburbs of Idlib and western suburbs of Aleppo, as well as in 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, with shelling by Syrian regime force also targeting the villages and towns of the western suburbs of Aleppo that are far from the dividing lines.March also saw more ground-based attacks by Turkish forces and armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) on the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the northern suburbs of Aleppo, as well as on 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 March, with a total of 32 civilians, including six children and three women, killed by landmines acrossthe country during this period. March also saw more assassinations of civilians at the hands of unidentified gunmen across Syria. Furthermore, the report documents the killing of 42 civilians, including one child and one woman, in March while they were collecting desert truffles, bringing the total number of civilians killed while collecting desert truffles since the beginning of 2023 to 92, including five children and one woman. These victims were all killed either by the explosion of landmines planted by parties we have been unable to identify or shot dead by parties we have been unable to identify, with the gunmen responsible being either members of Syrian regime forces or pro-regime Iranian militias, or ISIS affiliates.
As the report further notes, economic, living, service, and security conditions continued to decline across all sectors in the Syrian regime’s areas of control throughout the month. Regime areas saw a sharp deterioration in the service sector. Regarding the power crisis, more particularly, the Syrian regime’s government is still implementing a rationing policy, with power being cut in many areas for over 20 hours per day. The report also notes that residents in regime areas are struggling with rising prices of all goods, especially food, groceries, and fuel. The rate of price increases intensified even further with the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan in the last third of March.
The report further notes that the windstorm that hit the area on March 29 caused heavy damage, mostly resulting from the collapse of already damaged buildings, while some windows were shattered and electricity pylons were blown over. All of this resulted in civilian injuries, and complete power outages in some areas.
Moreover, the report notes that, in northwestern Syria, civilians’ already severe suffering continues to worsen under deteriorating economic and living conditions in parallel with rising prices for food and grocery supplies. In northeastern Syria, meanwhile, the situation remains dire, with worsening living and security conditions. In March, a number of towns and villages in SDF-held areas saw protests over poor living conditions and widespread corruption, with protesters also demanding the release of detainees.
The report notes that the region of northwestern Syria was hit by two major rainstorms, on March 6 and March 18, which uprooted hundreds of tents, and flooded dozens of them; some of these tents had only been erected recently before the storms to house dispossessed earthquake victims. On March 29, a severe windstorm hit the area and killed two IDPs (a man and a girl), as well as causing heavy damage to the local camps. As the report further reveals, March saw more fires in IDPs camps in northwestern Syria in March.
On the subject of UN humanitarian assistance, on March 9, the World Food Programme (WFP) sent out an e-mail to humanitarian organizations operating in northwestern Syria, revealing that, as of April 2023, the already meagre amounts of food in the food basket allocated for each family had been further reduced, as follows, with the new rations providing 991 calories for each individual. The report notes that this was the third time food rations have been reduced in the past year.
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 on 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 further 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’s Special 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 (SDF) 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 SDF to immediately end its recruitment of 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.