Nearly Half of all Victims Recorded in Syria Since the Beginning of 2023 Were Killed While Looking for Desert Truffles
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in its latest monthly report, released today, that 99 civilians were killed in Syria, in April 2023, including eight children and seven women. The report notes that nearly half of all victims documented killed in Syria since the beginning of 2023 were killed while searching for desert truffles.
The 16-page report provides details on the death toll of victims documented as having been killed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria in April 2023, particularly focusing on the most notable deaths that took place during this period. The report also sheds light on SNHR’s work concerning the issue of extrajudicial killing.
The report draws upon the information gathered from our constant daily monitoring of news and developments, through SNHR’s extensive network of relations with various sources, in addition to our analysis of a large number of photographs and videos.
The report reveals that the Syrian regime has failed to register the deaths of any of the hundreds of thousands of citizens it killed since March 2011 in the civil registry’s death records, adding that the regime exerts absolute control over the issuance of death certificates, which are not made available to any of the families of its victims, including the missing and forcibly disappeared, whether these victims were killed at the hands of the Syrian regime or by other affiliated parties. The Syrian regime only allows death certificates to be issued for those who meet the narrow criteria set by the regime and its security services. The report further notes that the vast majority of victims’ families are unable to obtain death certificates from the regime, for fear of linking their names to those of individuals detained by the regime and killed under torture, since this means that these family members were dissidents who opposed the regime, or of their loved one being registered as ‘terrorists’ if they are wanted by the regime’s security services; additionally, many victims’ families have been forcibly displaced outside the areas controlled by the regime.
The report further reveals that on August 10, 2022, the regime government’s Minister of Justice issued Circular No. 22 specifying the procedures for the conduct of proceedings related to registering deaths within Sharia courts. The circular included new conditions stipulating that five items of evidence must be submitted to and approved by the relevant judges in proceedings related to registration of deaths. It also requires that all relevant courts involved in death registration cases comply with the circular’s content. The circular also imposed security clearance conditions on judicial authorities to register death cases, increasing the security services’ intrusion into these legal procedures.
The report notes that April saw an increase in the documented monthly death toll, with 99 deaths recorded during the month, including 94 victims who were killed at the hands of other parties. In other words, 95 percent of all victims killed in April were killed by other parties. Since the beginning of 2023, a total of 258 civilians have been killed by other parties, accounting for 75 percent of the overall civilian death toll recorded this year. The reason for this notably high percentage is that many people have been killed during this period while searching for desert truffles, in addition to those killed by the explosion of landmines. Further, the state of insecurity in many areas provides a fertile environment for shootings carried out by unidentified parties.
As the report further reveals, 32 civilians, including three children and four women, were killed by the explosions of landmines across Syria during April, bringing the total number of victims killed by landmines since the beginning of 2023 to 77 civilians, including 16 children and seven women. April also saw a massacre, in which seven civilians were killed, again while searching for desert truffles. The massacre was caused by the explosion of a landmine that had been planted by an unidentified party in the area where the victims were searching.
The report records the killing of 99 civilians, including eight children and seven women (adult female) at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria in April 2023. Of those, the Syrian regime killed two civilians, including one child and one woman, while all armed opposition factions killed three civilians, including one woman. As noted above, the remaining 94 civilians, including seven children and five women, were killed by other parties. The report further notes that April saw four massacres at the hands of other parties, and the killing of one media worker.
The report also reveals that Deir Ez-Zour governorate saw the highest death toll of victims documented killed in April, accounting for approximately 32 percent of the total monthly death toll. All of these victims were killed at the hands of other parties. Deir Ez-Zour is followed by Hama governorate with approximately 25 percent of the monthly death toll, and then Daraa with 17 percent of all victims documented as killed in April.
As the report further reveals, the evidence collected by SNHR indicates that some of the attacks documented in the report were deliberately directed against civilians and civilian objects. These attacks, along with indiscriminate bombardment, also resulted in the destruction of vital facilities and buildings. The report additionally notes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crime of attacking civilians has been committed in many cases.
As the report also notes, the use of remote bombardment to target densely populated areas reflects a criminal mindset intent on deliberately inflicting the greatest possible number of deaths, which is a clear contravention of international human rights law and a flagrant violation of the Geneva VI Convention, Articles 27, 31, and 32.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to take additional steps following its adoption of Resolution 2254 and stresses the importance of referring the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court, adding that all those involved in perpetrating crimes against humanity and war crimes should be held accountable.
The report also requests that all relevant United Nations agencies make greater efforts to provide food, medical, and humanitarian assistance in areas where fighting has ceased, and in internally displaced persons’ camps, and to follow up with those states that have pledged voluntary contributions.
The report calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine (R2P) after all political channels have proved fruitless throughout all the agreements reached, the Cessation of Hostilities statements, and Astana agreements that followed, stressing the need to resort to Chapter VII, and to implement the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly.
The report further recommends that the international community should work to launch projects to create maps revealing the locations of landmines and cluster munitions in all Syrian governorates. This would facilitate the process of clearing these lethal munitions and educating the population about their locations.
The report additionally calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) to launch investigations into the cases included in this report and previous reports and confirms the SNHR’s willingness to cooperate and to provide further evidence and data in any such investigations, as well as calling on the commission to focus on the issue of landmines and cluster munitions in its next report.
The report also stresses that the Syrian regime must stop the indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools, and markets, as well as ending its acts of torture that have caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian citizens in detention centers and comply with UN Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law.
Lastly, the report reiterates its call on all the parties to the conflict to provide detailed maps of the locations where they have planted landmines, especially those present in civilian locations or areas near residential communities, as well as making several additional recommendations.