Suspending UN Cross-Border Humanitarian Assistance Puts the Lives of Millions of Syrians in Northwestern Syria in Jeopardy
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 July 2023. Amongst other things, the report stresses that suspending UN cross-border humanitarian assistance puts the lives of millions of Syrians in northwestern Syria in jeopardy.
The 23-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in July 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 July, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 55 civilians, including 16 children and four 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 three individuals who died due to torture. The report also documents two massacres in July.
As the report further reveals, July saw the documentation of no fewer than 197 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including 11 children and three women. The majority were detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Rural Damascus (Rif Dimshaq), followed by Deir Ez-Zour, then Damascus.
The report further notes that July witnessed at least seven attacks on vital civilian centers, six of which were at the hands of Syrian regime forces. Of these attacks, the report documents three on educational facilities and one on a place of worship.
The report additionally reveals that July saw Syrian regime forces continuing to launch artillery attacks against northwestern Syria, with separate attacks targeting the villages and towns of Jabal al-Zawiya in southern rural Idlib, and western rural Aleppo, as well as Sahl al-Ghab in western rural Hama; all of these areas are close to the dividing lines with armed opposition factions. In addition, regime artillery shelling targeted the villages and towns of western rural Aleppo and southern rural Idlib that are located far from the dividing lines.
Meanwhile, the report documents a decrease in the number of civilians killed by landmines in July. Only five civilians, including one child and one woman, were killed by the explosion of landmines in July, with these fatalities occurring in rural Hasaka, Deir Ez-Zour, and Aleppo, bringing the total number of victims killed by landmines since the beginning of 2023 to 91, all civilians, including 20 children and eight women.
July also witnessed several bombings using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as explosions of live remnants from earlier shelling across Syria. On July 9, a car bomb of unidentified source blew up in front of a car repair workshop in Shawa village in al-Ra’ie area in eastern Aleppo, causing a massacre in which five civilians, including one child, were killed. In a similar incident on July 27, a motorbike of unidentified source exploded near a SAIPA-model taxi in al-Sayyidah Zaynab in Rural Damascus, killing eight civilians, including four children and one woman. Additionally, the report documents more assassinations of civilians at the hands of unidentified gunmen across Syria in July, mostly in the governorates of Daraa and Deir Ez-Zour.
As the report further reveals, economic, living, services, and security conditions continued to decline across all sectors in areas under Syrian regime control in July, with a particularly sharp deterioration seen in the services sector. The report notes that residents in regime-held areas are also still grappling with rising prices for virtually all goods, most crucially food supplies amid a complete lack of price regulation by the Syrian regime government. Moreover, the rising fuel prices are also causing a transport crisis in regime-held areas. July also saw an unprecedented fall in the exchange value of the Syrian Pound (SYP). In the first third of July, one US dollar equaled 10,000 SYP, which is historically unprecedented. By the last of week of July, the Syrian pound had plummeted further, reaching 12,000 S.P. for one US dollar. Naturally, this led to more price rises and more goods becoming unavailable in markets. The report also notes that the rampant state of insecurity is another issue plaguing regime-controlled areas, with thefts continuing to rise in multiple areas, some of which have even targeted public service institutions.
In northwestern Syria, meanwhile, civilians’ already severe suffering continues to worsen under deteriorating economic and living conditions in parallel with rising prices for food and grocery supplies, further intensifying civilians’ suffering and causing continuous price rises, which are additionally worsened by the people’s waning purchasing power due to widespread unemployment and poverty, especially in those areas housing internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, with wages for those in work in the region also continuing to decline. The report also notes that the rising summer heat has caused several fires in agricultural and forested areas in rural Idlib, Aleppo, and Latakia, leading to massive losses for farmers and woodland resources. Moreover, a number of citizens died by drowning in northwestern Syria, where people are trying to ease the effects of the extreme, searing heat by visiting lakes, rivers and other bodies of water.
As the report also reveals, the situation in Northeastern Syria remains similarly dire, with worsening living and security conditions. Prices of food, fuel and other essential commodities in the region continue to rise due to the controlling forces’ failure to regulate the market, not to mention the state of rampant insecurity in the region that has continued for a few months. The report also says that, in light of the rising heat, residents in multiple neighborhoods in Hasaka city continue to struggle with water outages for the second consecutive month, as Allouk Water Station stopped pumping water due to a power outage, depriving almost one million people in the region of water, with this suffering further worsened by the rising prices of drinking water.
The report additionally notes that, in July, 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 the widespread unemployment and virtually non-existent purchasing power among residents in the area on the other combining to create further deprivation, during a period characterized by severe shortages of humanitarian relief, meaning that humanitarian needs are reaching unprecedented levels. Furthermore, the report documented more fires in IDP camps in northwestern Syria in July. The report also recorded the death of a humanitarian activist in al-Rukban IDPs Camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border in rural Homs governorate on July 18 due to the lack of healthcare there and to his inability to leave and receive the necessary treatment elsewhere due to the regime siege on the camp, leading eventually to his premature death. The report also notes that, in Jordan, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) stated on July 18 that further reductions of food assistance intended for refugees in Jordan had become unavoidable due to lack of funds. In a statement, the WFP revealed that monthly assistance would be reduced by a third for the 119,000 refugees living in al-Zaatari and Azraq Camps. As of August, Syrian refugees in camps will receive a reduced cash stipend of $21 (15 JOD) per person per month, a steep reduction from the previous monthly stipend of $32 (23 JOD) per person. The report stresses that reducing food assistance to refugees in Jordan makes families more vulnerable to hunger, and undermines the task of providing a proper healthcare and protection environment for Syrian child refugees in Jordan.
The report stresses that the evidence collected suggests that attacks have been deliberately directed at civilians and civilian objects. 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 by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 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 Commission of Inquiry (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 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 recommend