We Documented 91 Civilian Deaths, Including 14 Children and 13 Women, as well as 11 Deaths due to Torture, in December 2023
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its latest report, released today, that 1,032 civilians were killed in Syria, in 2023, including 251 children, and 94 women, as well as 133 victims who died due to torture, noting that bloodshed has continued without pause in Syria since March 2011. The group added that 91 civilians were killed in December 2023, including 14 children and 13 women, as well as 11 victims who died due to torture.
The 35-page report notes that the crime of killing has been committed in a widespread and systemic manner primarily by Syrian regime forces and pro-regime militias. The situation in Syria has grown steadily more complex over the past decade, as new parties have emerged in the Syrian conflict. As the report explains, SNHR has worked since 2011 to develop and maintain complex programs to archive and categorize the victims’ data, which the team collects and verifies, enabling SNHR to catalogue the victims according to their gender, age, the date and place of death, governorate of origin, and perpetrator party, and to make comparisons between these parties. Furthermore, such technologies have also enabled SNHR to determine which governorates have lost most people. It should also be noted that the report distributes victims according to the place where they died, rather than their governorate of origin.
This report documents the death toll of victims whose deaths were documented as taking place at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria in 2023, including the month of December. The report sheds light particularly on the deaths of children and women, victims who died due to torture, and victims among medical personnel, media workers, and civil defense personnel.
The death toll summarized in the report includes extrajudicial killings by the controlling forces which occurred as a violation of either international human rights law or international humanitarian law or both, but does not include cases of natural deaths or those which occurred due to disputes between members of society or other such issues.
The report includes a distribution of the death toll by the perpetrator party. In this context, it draws upon the SNHR team’s constant daily monitoring of news and developments, and on information from our extensive network of various sources, as well as analyzing a wide range of photos and video footage.
Moreover the report stresses that the killing of civilians in Syria has continued for the 13th consecutive year, as it has done without pause since the very beginning of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria in March 2011, resulting in casualty numbers that are among the highest worldwide; this underlines the fact that Syria is still the most dangerous nation in the world for civilians, and remains an exceptionally insecure and perilous environment wholly unsuitable for the return of refugees.
The report also underlines the Syrian regime’s failure to register the deaths of any of the hundreds of thousands of citizens it has killed since March 2011 in the death records of the civil registry. It explains that the regime exerts absolute control over the issuance of death certificates, which are not made available to any of the families of its victims, including the missing and forcibly disappeared, whether these victims were killed at the hands of the Syrian regime or by other affiliated parties. The Syrian regime only allows death certificates to be issued for those who meet the narrow criteria set by the regime and its security services. The report further reveals that the vast majority of victims’ families are unable to obtain death certificates from the Syrian regime, for fear of linking their name to that of a person who was detained by the regime and killed under torture, meaning that he or she was a dissident who opposed the regime, or of their loved one being registered as a ‘terrorist’ if they are wanted by the security services; additionally, many victims’ families have been forcibly displaced outside the areas controlled by the regime.
The report further reveals that on August 10, 2022, the regime government’s Minister of Justice issued Circular No. 22 specifying the procedures for the conduct of proceedings related to registering deaths within Sharia courts. The circular included new conditions stipulating that five items of evidence must be submitted to and approved by the relevant judges in proceedings related to registration of deaths. It also requires that all relevant courts involved in death registration cases comply with the circular’s content. The circular also imposed security clearance conditions on judicial authorities to register death cases, increasing the security services’ intrusion into these legal procedures.
The report documents the killing of 1,032 civilians, including 181 children and 150 women (adult female), at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling parties in Syria in 2023. Of these, the Syrian regime was responsible for the killing of 225 civilians, including 57 children and 24 women, while Russian forces killed 20 civilians, including six children and five women, and ISIS killed one civilian. The report also reveals that 16 civilians, including two children and five women, were killed by Hay’at Tahrri al-Sham (HTS), while all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) killed 17 civilians, including five children and one woman. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) killed 74 civilians, including nine children and 10 women, while five civilians were killed by the US-led International Coalition forces. Finally, a total of 674 civilians, including 102 children and 74 women were killed by other parties.
The report reveals that Daraa governorate saw the highest number of deaths in 2023, accounting for approximately 22 percent of the total, followed by Deir Ez-Zour with approximately 20 percent, and then by the governorates of Aleppo and Idlib with approximately 14 percent each. Most of the victims in those governorates were killed by other parties. Meanwhile, the report documents more killings by landmines across Syria in 2023, with a total of 114 civilians, including 26 children and 11 women, documented as being killed by landmines in 2023.
As the report further relates, SNHR’s Victim Documentation Team documented the killing of 91 civilians, including 14 children and 13 women, in December 2023. Of the 91 civilians killed during this month, 31, including four children and four women, were killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while HTS killed five civilians, including one child and two women, with all armed opposition factions/SNA being responsible for one civilian death in the month of December. The report further reveals that the SDF killed seven civilians, including one woman, in December, while 47 others, including nine children and six women, were killed at the hands of other parties.
Furthermore, the report reveals that SNHR documented the killing of four medical personnel at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while three medical workers were killed in 2023 – one by regime forces and two by other parties. Lastly, two Civil Defense personnelwere killed in 2023 – one by regime forces and one by other parties.
On the subject of victims dying due to torture, the report reveals that 57 individuals died due to torture in Syria, in 2023, including one child and two women. Of these victims, 32, including one child and two women, died due to torture at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while one individual died due to torture at the hands of HTS, three at the hands of all armed opposition factions/SNA, and 10 at the hands of the SDF. The report additionally documents the deaths of 11 victims due to torture in December 2023 with seven of these dying at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while three died at the hand sof the HTS and one at the hands of the SDF.
The report further reveals that a total of 20 massacres were documented in 2023, with SNHR using the term ‘massacre’ to denote an incident where at least five peaceful individuals are killed. In line with this definition, the report records also five massacres by Syrian regime forces in 2023, one by Russian forces, and 14 by other parties.
The report notes that the evidence collected by SNHR indicates that some of the attacks documented in the report were deliberately directed against civilians and civilian objects. These attacks, along with indiscriminate bombardment, also resulted in the destruction of more vital facilities and buildings. The report additionally notes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crime of attacking civilians has been committed in many cases.
As the report also notes, the use of remote bombardment to target densely populated areas reflects a criminal mindset on the regime’s part, showing that it is intent on deliberately inflicting the greatest possible number of deaths, in clear contravention of international human rights law and flagrantly violating the Geneva VI Convention, Articles 27, 31, and 32.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to take additional steps following its adoption of Resolution 2254 and stresses the importance of referring the Syrian dossier to the International Criminal Court, adding that all those involved in perpetrating crimes against humanity and war crimes should be held accountable.
The report also urges all relevant United Nations agencies to make far greater efforts to provide food, medical, and humanitarian assistance in areas where fighting has ceased, and in internally displaced persons’ camps, and to follow up with those states that have pledged voluntary contributions.
The report additionally calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine (R2P) after all political channels have proved fruitless throughout all the agreements reached, as well as the Cessation of Hostilities statements, and Astana agreements that followed, stressing the need to resort to Chapter VII, and to implement the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly.
The report further recommends that the international community should work to launch projects to create maps revealing the locations of landmines and cluster munitions in all Syrian governorates. This would facilitate the process of clearing these lethal munitions and educating the population about their locations.
The report additionally calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) to launch investigations into the cases included in this report and previous reports and confirms the SNHR’s willingness to cooperate and to provide further evidence and data in any such investigations, as well as calling on the commission to focus on the issue of landmines and cluster munitions in its next report.
The report also stresses that the Syrian regime must stop the indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools, and markets, as well as ending its acts of torture that have caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian citizens in detention centers and comply with UN Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law.
Lastly, the report reiterates SNHR’s appeal to all the parties to the conflict to provide detailed maps of the locations where they have planted landmines, especially those present in civilian locations or areas near residential communities, as well as making several additional recommendations.