The Syrian Regime Responds to Protests Against Worsening Living Conditions That Have Spread Across Syria With An Iron Fist
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 August 2023. Amongst other things, the report stresses that the Syrian regime is responding to the protests against worsening living conditions that have spread across Syria with an iron fist.
The 23-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in August 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 August, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 97 civilians, including 22 children and three women (adult female), most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents the killing of one media worker, and 10 individuals who died due to torture.
As the report further reveals, August saw the documentation of no fewer than 223 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including 14 children and 17 women. The majority were detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Rural Damascus (Rif Dimshaq), followed by Damascus, and then Idlib.
The report further notes that August witnessed at least nine attacks on vital civilian centers, seven of which were carried out by Syrian regime forces. Of these attacks, the report notes, five were on educational facilities.
The report additionally reveals that August saw a significant escalation by the Syrian regime in terms of artillery attacks on 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 between regime-controlled areas and areas controlled by armed opposition factions. In addition, regime artillery shelling targeted the villages and towns of western rural Aleppo and southern rural Idlib which are far from the dividing lines. Furthermore, the report documents that August witnessed many peaceful civilian protests across regime-controlled areas of Syria, with the protestors holding the Syrian regime responsible for the worsening economic, social, and political situation in the country. On August 17, the scope of these protests grew significantly, with thousands joining demonstrations in the governorates of Daraa and Suwayda which have continued to grow since then, with other protests taking place in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Latakia, Tartus, and Aleppo. The message was largely the same in all the locations, namely that Bashar Assad is responsible for the dire state of the Syrian nation, with the protesters calling for ousting the Syrian regime.
As the report further reveals, August saw more civilians killed by landmines, which killed five civilians, including four children, during the month. This brings the total number of victims killed by landmines since the beginning of 2023 to 96 civilians, including 24 children and eight women. Meanwhile, the report documents more assassinations of civilians at the hands of unidentified assailants across Syria, mostly in the governorates of Aleppo, Daraa and Deir Ez-Zour.
In addition, economic, living, services, and security conditions continued to decline in August across all sectors in areas under Syrian regime control, with a particularly sharp deterioration seen in the services sector. On a related note, the report notes that residents in regime-held areas are also still grappling with rising prices for virtually all goods, most crucially food supplies, including vegetables, with fuel also seeing another price rise in August. 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, with all these crises intensified 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 these area also continuing to decline. In regard to services, many areas suffered water outages amid searing summer heat, as the fragile mains water network was affected by the rising temperatures and frequent power outages.
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 area that has continued for a few months. Civilians also had to cope with the poor quality of bread being sold at public bakeries, while the rising price of ‘free’ bread put it beyond the reach of most civilians.
The report additionally notes that, in August, the suffering of IDPs in northwestern Syria also continued in relation to both living conditions and the ongoing humanitarian crisis, with already dire conditions made even more unbearable by the lack of any humanitarian assistance entering the region via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing since July 10. As such, the humanitarian needs of millions of internally displaced people have reached unprecedented levels, with the crisis further intensified by the ever-increasing prices, especially of food supplies, on one hand, and the widespread unemployment and virtually non-existent purchasing power among residents of the area on the other. Civilians’ suffering was also exacerbated by the searing summer temperatures rising to unprecedented levels, which caused more fires in August.
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 recommendations.