Lebanese Authorities Must Stop the Refoulment of Syrian Refugees, Syria is Not Safe for the Return of Refugees and IDPs
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 April 2023. Amongst other things, the report stresses that Lebanese authorities must stop the refoulment of Syrian refugees, as Syria is not safe for the return of refugees and IDPs.
The 23-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in April 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 was 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 April, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 99 civilians, including eight children and seven women (adult female), most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents the killing of one media worker. The report also documents four massacres which took place in April.
As the report further reveals, April saw the documentation of no fewer than 158 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including five children and eight women. The majority were detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, then Damascus, and then Daraa.
The report further notes that April witnessed at least three attacks on vital civilian centers, two by Syrian regime forces and one by all armed opposition factions (SNA). One of these attacks targeted a school, while another targeted a medical facility.
The report additionally reveals that in April Syrian regime forces continued to carry out artillery attacks in northwestern Syria, where the report documents separate attacks targeting the villages and towns of Jabal al-Zawiya in the southern suburbs of Idlib and the western suburbs of Aleppo, as well as Sahl al-Ghab in the western suburbs of Hama and the northern suburbs of Latakia; all of these areas are close to the dividing lines with armed opposition factions, with regime force also shelling villages and towns in the eastern and southern suburbs of Idlib, in addition to areas in the western suburbs of Aleppo that are far from the dividing line, causing casualties.
Meanwhile, more civilians were killed by landmines across Syria in April, mostly in the governorates of Aleppo, Hama, and Deir Ez-Zour, with a total of 32 civilians, including three children and four women, killed by landmines across the country in this period. April also saw more assassinations of civilians at the hands of unidentified gunmen across Syria. SNHR documented the killing of 37 civilians during this period, including one child and one woman, by unidentified gunmen. Of these, 15 were killed in Daraa governorate alone. On a related note, the report records the killing of 64 civilians, including one child and five women, while they were searching for desert truffles, in April, bringing the total number of civilians killed while collecting desert truffles since the beginning of 2023 to 156 in total, including six children and six women. These victims were all killed either by the explosion of landmines planted by parties who SNHR has so far been unable to identify or shot dead by parties we have also been unable to identify to date, 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, services, and security conditions continued to decline across all sectors in areas under the Syrian regime’s control, which saw a particularly sharp deterioration in the services sector. Regarding the power crisis specifically, the Syrian regime’s government is still implementing a rationing policy, exacerbating the suffering of residents in regime areas. Meanwhile, residents in regime areas are struggling with rising prices of all goods, especially food, groceries, and fuel. The Holy Month of Ramadan saw prices rise by as much as 15 percent, especially of food supplies.
The report further notes that residents of Manbij and Ein al-Aran city in northeastern Aleppo governorate continued to suffer under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as the group dealt brutally with protests against their policies. As we have documented, some grocery supplies are scarce, most importantly flour, leading to low levels of bread production and, in turn, to rising bread prices. Meanwhile, the report notes that Syrian regime forces tightened their blockade on the SDF-held al-Shahba area in Aleppo city. Under this siege, which has been imposed by regime forces since 2018, fuel and food supplies have been blocked from entering in April, reducing the working capacity of hospitals in the area amid fears that they will be completely put out of commission, while the camps in the area suffered power outages. Moreover, the report notes that the situation in Northeastern Syria also remains dire, with worsening living and security conditions. Prices of food, fuel and other essential commodities in the region continue to rise.
The report notes that the suffering of IDPs in northwestern Syria continued in April, in relation to both living conditions and the humanitarian crisis, with the region still coping with the aftermath of the February 6 earthquake that adversely affected all aspects of life, while more fires broke out in the region. In the camps of northeastern Syria, meanwhile, the report notes that the Canadian government repatriated 10 Canadian children and four Canadian women from the camps in the region this April.
On the subject of the refoulment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the report notes that the Lebanese military launched a crackdown on areas in the country with a large Syrian population, resulting in the mass detention of dozens of Syrian refugees. The report documented the refoulment of no fewer than 168 Syrian refugees from Lebanon since the beginning of April 2023, with almost one-third of this total being children and women. Personnel from the Syrian regime’s Military Security division in the al-Masna border area arrested two individuals from the same family from among those forcibly returned. The report notes that any refoulment of Syrian refugees while the current Syrian regime remains in power, with its current leadership and the structure of its brutal security apparatus intact, is a violation of the customary laws which are binding on all world states, including those states that have not ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
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 that 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, including the Russian regime, accountable since all have been proven to be involved in the commission of war crimes.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council should adopt a resolution prohibiting 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 the agreements, statements of cessation of hostilities and Astana agreements issued to date, 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 detailed in this report and previous reports, confirming 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, should distinguish between military and civilian targets, and should refrain from any further 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.