Irregular Migration on Death Boats Claims the Lives of Dozens of Syrians in June, Syria is Unsafe for the Return of IDPs and Refugees
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, and documenting committed by the parties to the conflict and the dominant forces in Syria in the first half of 2023 up to, and including June 2023. Amongst other things, the report stresses that refugees’ desperate attempts at irregular migration on vessels rightly known as ‘death boats’ claimed the lives of dozens of Syrians in June.
The 31-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in the first half of 2023 up to, and including June 2023. This includes the civilian victims killed by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces during this period, in addition to providing a summary of 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.
Most notable human rights violations in the first half of 2023
In the first half of 2023, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 501 civilians, including 71 children and 42 women (adult female), most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents the killing of three medical personnel, one media worker, and 20 individuals who died due to torture. The report also documents 12 massacres in June.
As the report further reveals, the same period saw the documentation of no fewer than 1,047 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including 43 children and 37 women. The majority were detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, followed by Damascus, then Daraa.
The report further notes that the first half of 2023 witnessed at least 30 attacks on vital civilian centers, including 24 attacks that were carried out by Syrian regime forces, while Russian forces and all armed opposition factions were responsible for one attack each. Furthermore, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and other parties were responsible for two attacks apiece. Among the attacks carried out in the first half of 2023 four targeted educational facilities, two targeted medical facilities, and nine targeted places of worship.
Most notable human rights violations in June 2023
Meanwhile, SNHR documented the killing of 118 civilians, including 15 children and 19 women (adult female) in June, most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents the killing of four individuals who died due to torture.
As the report further reveals, June saw the documentation of no fewer than 184 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including three children and five women. The majority were detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, then Damascus.
The report further notes that June witnessed at least 10 attacks on vital civilian centers, including six attacks that were carried out by Syrian regime forces, while the remaining attacks were distributed as follows: one by SDF, one by Russian forces, and two by other parties. One of the attacks documented in June targeted a medical facility, while three targeted places of worship.
Most notable developments in June 2023
The report additionally reveals that June 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, on June 27, the Syrian regime air force carried out airstrikes on agricultural land between the two towns of al-Yadoda town and Ataman in the western suburbs of Daraa governorate, the first time those areas had been targeted since 2018. Furthermore, the report notes that June saw the most serious military escalation by Russian forces this year, with multiple airstrikes by Russian forces targeting northwestern Syria in the last 10 days of June, which resulted in civilian fatalities. The report also documents the killing of a number of civilians in regime-held areas in attacks that involved the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), commonly known as drones, whose source we have not yet been able to identify.
Meanwhile, June saw a significant reduction in the number of civilians killed by landmines, with SNHR documenting new fatalities as a result of landmine explosions every month of 2023. In June, only three children were killed by the explosion of landmines, bringing the total number of victims killed by landmines since the beginning of 2023 to 86 civilians, including 19 children and seven women. On the other hand, June saw more assassinations of civilians at the hands of unidentified gunmen across Syria.
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 in the month of June, with a particularly sharp deterioration seen in the services sector. This applies to prices as well, as residents in regime-held areas are also still grappling with rising prices for virtually all goods, most crucially food supplies. The rampant state of insecurity is another issue plaguing regime-held areas, with thefts continuing to rise in multiple areas, some of which have even targeted public service institutions. Meanwhile 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; including chicken, sugar, rice, and fuel, all intensified by the Turkish Lira’s value which has plummeted to exchange rates as low as 25 TRY for 1 USD. In addition, the rampant state of insecurity continues to plague the residents of areas under the control of the Syrian National Army (SNA) in northern suburbs of Aleppo governorate, especially in al-Bab city. SNHR documented almost daily armed clashes in the city’s neighborhoods and popular markets in June, mostly between different armed factions. The report also notes that the situation in Northeastern Syria remains similarly dire, with worsening living and security conditions, with prices of food, fuel and other essential commodities in the region continuing to rise.
On the subject of forced displacement, the suffering of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northwestern Syria continues in relation to both living conditions and the ongoing humanitarian crisis, with the ever-increasing prices, especially of food supplies, on one hand, and the widespread unemployment and virtually non-existent purchasing power among residents in the area, especially those in IDP camps, on the other, during a period characterized by severe shortages of humanitarian relief, meaning that humanitarian needs are reaching unprecedented levels. The report also documents more fires in IDP camps in northwestern Syria in June. With regard to asylum seekers, the report documents two incidents of boats carrying asylum seekers, including Syrians, capsizing and sinking. One of the incidents, which took place on June 14. resulted in the death of 37 Syrians, including seven women, mostly from Daraa governorate who drowned when a boat carrying migrants, mostly from Egypt, Syria, and Pakistan, capsized and sank near the Greek coasts.
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 repeatedly 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 IDPs, 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 additionally emphasizes 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 IDPs; 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.