Restoring Relations With the Syrian Regime is an Insult to the Rights of the Regime’s Victims
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 May 2023. Amongst other things, the report stresses that restoring relations with the Syrian regime is an insult to the rights of the regime’s victims.
The 24-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in April 2023, including the civilian victims 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 May, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 42 civilians, including seven children and one woman (adult female), most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents the killing of one individual who died due to torture. The report also documents one massacre in May.
As the report further reveals, May saw the documentation of no fewer than 226 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including six children and 11 women. The majority were detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, then Damascus.
The report further notes that May witnessed at least three attacks on vital civilian centers, all of which were carried out by Syrian regime forces in Idlib governorate, with two of these attacks targeting places of worship.
The report additionally reveals that May saw Syrian regime forces continuing to carry out artillery attacks against northwestern Syria, where we documented separate attacks focusing on the villages and towns of Jabal al-Zawiya in the southern suburbs of Idlib and the 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 these areas are close to the dividing lines with armed opposition factions, with regime force also shelling villages and towns in the suburbs of Idlib located far from the dividing line. The report further notes that Syrian regime forces deployed reinforcements to the vicinity of Talbisa city in the northern suburbs of Homs. These reinforcements established themselves in Katibat al-Ghantou, as well as setting up military checkpoints along the al-Sa’n al-Asswad road in the east of the city, all in tandem with the construction of berms and further fortification of the existing checkpoints both in Talbisa city and on its outskirts. This followed a meeting between a number of regime intelligence officers in Homs city and a delegation of local dignitaries held at al-Safir Hotel in Homs city on May 17 which aimed to address security issues in the city. The regime officials specified a set of demands related to drug-trafficking and abductions which have mostly been taking place in Homs city and on the Homs-Hama international highway. The regime threatened to launch a city-wide security crackdown and warned that all those refusing to comply with these demands would be deported to northern Syria if the dignitaries failed to fulfill them within 15 days.
The report also documented two airstrikes by the Russian air force, their first in 2023, in the southern suburbs of Idlib. The first attack targeted Fleifel village, located on the dividing lines separating areas controlled by Syrian regime force, on one side, and armed opposition factions and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), on the other. The second attack targeted a house in al n al-Manabea’ area on the northwestern outskirts of Sarja village in Jabal al-Zawiya, injuring a civilian and damaging the house.
Meanwhile, more civilians were killed by landmines across Syria in May, mostly in the governorates of Aleppo, Daraa, and Deir Ez-Zour, with the monthly total of six civilian fatalities bringing the total number of victims killed by landmines since the beginning of 2023 to 83 civilians, including 16 children and seven women. May also saw more assassinations of civilians at the hands of unidentified gunmen across Syria, mostly in Daraa governorate.
As the report further reveals, economic, living, services, and security conditions continued to decline across all sectors in areas under the Syrian regime’s control, with a particularly severe deterioration seen in the services sector. Regarding the power crisis specifically, the Syrian regime government is still implementing a rationing policy, exacerbating the suffering of the residents in regime areas, where fuel prices saw further increases. Meanwhile, in northwestern Syria, the report documents that civilians’ already severe suffering continues to worsen under deteriorating economic and living conditions in parallel with rising prices for food and grocery supplies, all intensified by the people’s waning purchasing power due to rampant unemployment and poverty, while the living and security situation in northeastern Syria remains similarly and increasingly dire.
As the report further reveals, residents of Manbij and Ein al-Aran city in northeastern Aleppo governorate continued to suffer under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as the group continued its restrictive approach in light of the popular protests against its policies. As a result, some essential grocery supplies have become scarce. Moreover, in May, the suffering of IDPs in northwestern Syria continued in relation to both living conditions and the ongoing humanitarian crisis, with the ever-increasing prices, especially of food supplies, on one hand, and rampant unemployment and virtually non-existent purchasing powers among residents in the area, especially those in IDP camps, on the other, during a period characterized by severe shortages of humanitarian relief, on the other, meaning that humanitarian needs have reached unprecedented levels. The report also documents more fires in IDP camps in northwestern Syria. Furthermore, the already-grim living situation in al-Rukban Camp, located on the Syrian-Jordanian borders in eastern Homs city, was worsened by two dust storms that caused suffocation among a number of residents, especially children.
The report additionally notes that the Syrian regime participated in the Arab Summit held on May 18 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the first time in nearly a decade, despite the regime giving no indications of goodwill towards the Syrian people, with approximately 136,000 Syrian citizens still imprisoned in regime detention centers. The report also expresses serious concerns that any restoration of relations with the Syrian regime is likely to lead to Syrian refugees being forced to return to Syria; indeed, SNHR has already documented the refoulment of no fewer than 753 Syrian refugees from Lebanon. The report emphasizes that any governments carrying out such practices bear legal responsibility for any torture, killing, enforced disappearance, or other violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime against any of these forcibly returned 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, ranging 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 information on how to safely dispose of the remnants of these dangerous weapons.
The report also calls on all relevant United Nations agencies to make far greater efforts regarding the provision of humanitarian, food and medical assistance in areas where hostilities have ceased, in camps for internally displaced persons, and in their 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 all crimes and massacres and to denounce those who are primarily responsible for disregarding agreements reached on reducing the escalation of violence, 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 SDF to press the Kurdish-led group to cease all its violations in all the areas and towns under its 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 additional recommendations.