Political Transition and Progress Towards Democracy is the Only Way to End Violations in Syria
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its 13th annual report since the start of the popular uprising in March 2011. The report, entitled, ‘Political Transition and Progression to Democracy is the Only Way to Stop Violations in Syria,’ summarizes the most notable violations of human rights at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria for the year 2023. Most notably, the report reveals that 1,032 civilians; including 181 children and 119 women (adult female) as well as 59 victims who died due to torture, were killed in 2023, while a total of 2,317 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention were documented throughout the year, and approximately 195,000 people were displaced.
As the 192-page report explains, Syria’s protracted conflict continued throughout the past year of 2023, with its devastating effects continuing to wreck the lives of millions of Syrians. Over the past 13 years, SNHR has documented numerous types of violations at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria, many of which still persist. While all parties have been responsible for violations, the Syrian regime remains by far the greatest culprit, being responsible for a massively greater number of abuses than any of the other parties. These violations, which include, inter alia, killings, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, forcible displacement, torture, seizure of lands and properties, assassinations and remote bombings, have intensified in light of the prevalent state of insecurity; all have resulted in a catastrophic human rights crisis in Syria. The past year, 2023 was particularly marked by the resumption of military hostilities, as the year saw the most intensified escalation by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces in two years, targeting areas in northwestern Syria that are subject to the Cessation of Hostilities agreement of 2020.
The mounting and worsening effects of the massive magnitude of the violations committed in Syria over the past 13 years is only becoming more dramatic and serious year by year. These effects manifest themselves in accelerating deterioration of the already abysmal living and security conditions across the country. The economic situation in particular dramatically worsened in 2023, which was even worse than the preceding two years.
The report stresses that human rights violations continued to occur across all parts of Syria in 2023, being manifested in various forms, including civilian deaths and targeted attacks, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrest, torture, and attacks on vital civilian facilities. The report adds that the protracted nature of the Syrian conflict only underlines the imperative need for a sustainable political resolution. The complications of the Syrian crisis, with the involvement of many international, foreign stakeholders, all of whom have conflicting regional and international interests, require a clinically nuanced approach that prioritizes the aspirations and rights of the Syrian people. Any political resolution proposed must aim to end hostilities and establish a sustained ceasefire, build a comprehensive political dialogue, ensure accountability for human rights violations, and launch reconstruction and rehabilitation. However, the report notes that, besides the ongoing conflict and the political resolution reaching a deadlock, there are other issues urgently requiring attention, namely the humanitarian crisis and displacement, economic decline, employment and livelihoods, children and young people, and women’s rights and involvement in all fields.
As Fadel Abdulghany, SNHR Executive Director, says:
“This report can be viewed as a historical testament documenting the gross violations that the Syrian people have had to endure. Simultaneously, it is a reminder of the incredible resolve of the Syrian people and their persistent calls to attain their legitimate right to political transition. The findings of this report only underscore the difficulty of achieving this goal without collective action at the international level. Therefore, we call on the international community to renew its commitment to finding a sustainable solution to the protracted armed conflict. This report also confirms that Syria remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes, and accordingly we stress that humanitarian assistance must continue, and must be increased. While we continue to document and report violations and expose their perpetrators, our mission remains the same as it always has been: to advocate for justice, peace, and dignity for all Syrians.”
The report explains its objective of providing an in-depth summary of the state of human rights in Syria throughout 2023, with emphasis on the ongoing violations and the pressing need for a political resolution, as well as the other crucial issues affecting the lives of the Syrian people. To that end, the report provides an outline of the most notable and prominent violations of human rights in Syria for 2023, while drawing comparisons between the most notable patterns of violations documented in 2023 and 2022. The report also contains a summary of the most noteworthy political, military, and human rights developments in an attempt to provide a clearer picture of the context in which the violations took place. In this, the report provides details of the most notable developments in the arenas of politics, military, and human rights, as well as the investigations carried out on Syria over the past year. Moreover, the report touches upon the subject of the course of accountability, stressing that the progress made on that front still falls far short of deterring the perpetrators of violations and holding them accountable. The report also highlights the role played by SNHR in supporting the course of accountability, noting that the group released approximately 75 reports and 856 news articles in 2023, in which it addressed multiple types of the most notable human rights violations committed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria. These reports were based on evidence from numerous sources, including approximately 304 testimonies given by victims who have been subjected to various types of violations, been injured in or survived attacks, along with paramedics, central signal workers or victims’ families. All these testimonies were obtained through speaking directly with eyewitnesses, with none of them cited from any second-hand sources.
As SNHR’s database shows, a total of 1,032 civilians were documented as having been killed in 2023, including 181 children and 119 women (adult female), at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria. Of this total, the Syrian regime was responsible for the deaths of 225 civilians, including 57 children and 24 women, with regime forces committing five massacres this year, while Russian forces killed 20 civilians, including six children and five women, as well as committing one massacre. Meanwhile, ISIS killed one civilian, while Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) killed 16 civilians, including two children and five women. Furthermore, the report documents that 17 civilians, including five children and one woman, were killed at the hands of all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA), while Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) killed 74 civilians, including nine children and 10 women. Moreover, the report records that five civilians were killed by the US-led International Coalition forces. Lastly, the report records that 674 civilians, including 102 children and 74 women, were killed by other parties, who were also responsible for no fewer than 14 massacres.
As the report further reveals, approximately 2,317 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention were documented in 2023, with those detained including 129 children and 87 women (adult female). Of these, the Syrian regime was responsible for 1,063 cases, including 24 children and 49 women, while HTS was responsible for 248 cases, including four children and seven women. In addition, all armed opposition factions/SNA were responsible for 365 cases, including 10 children and 25 women, while the SDF was responsible for 641 cases in 2023, including 91 children and six women.
The report adds that no fewer than 59 individuals died due to torture in 2023, distributed as follows: 34 at the hands of Syrian regime forces, including one child and one woman, 10 at the hands of the SDF, including one child, three at the hands of all armed opposition factions/SNA, eight at the hands of HTS, including one woman, and finally four at the hands of other parties.
The report also provides details of the most notable violations against medical personnel and media workers, noting that four medical personnel, including one woman, were killed in 2023, all at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while three media workers were killed this year: one by Syrian regime forces, and two by other parties.
As the report further reveals, no fewer than 206 attacks on civilian vital facilities were documented in 2023 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces, including 142 by Syrian regime forces and six by Russian forces. Furthermore, HTS and all armed opposition factions/SNA were responsible for one attack each, while the SDF was responsible for 48 attacks. Finally, the report records that nine attacks on vital civilian facilities were carried out by other parties.
In 2023, the report records one attack that involved the use of cluster munitions by Syrian regime forces in Idlib governorate. The attack resulted in the death of 1 civilian, and injured eight others. Meanwhile, the report documents eight attacks involving the use of cluster munitions, all at the hands of Syrian regime forces, with three civilians injured in these attacks.
The report also notes that approximately 195,000 people were displaced in 2023 as a result of the military operations carried out by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria, including 152,000 people who were displaced as a result of the military operations by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces.
The report concludes that the Syrian regime has failed in upholding its responsibility to protect Syria’s population from crimes against humanity and war crimes. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including the prevention of incitement to commit them by all possible means, and when the state clearly fails to protect its population from crimes of atrocity, or is itself the main party responsible for committing such crimes, as in the case of the Syrian regime, this means that it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene to take protective measures in a collective, decisive and timely manner. The report adds that while all parties to the conflict in Syria have violated both international humanitarian law and international human rights law, the Syrian regime and its allies are the perpetrators of by far the largest number of violations.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to take additional steps following the adoption of Resolution 2254, which clearly demands that all parties should, “…Immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment,” and should find ways and mechanisms to implement Security Council Resolutions 2041, 2042, 2139 and Article 12 of Resolution 2254 regarding detainees and forcibly disappeared persons in Syria.
The report also calls on the UN Security Council to abstain from using the concept of sovereignty as an excuse for inaction, and to take action to redress the invocation of the Security Council’s arbitrary powers at the expense of international law, and especially humanitarian aid.
Moreover, the report calls on the UN Security Council to take serious steps to achieve a political transition under the Geneva Communiqué and Security Council Resolution No. 2254, to ensure the stability and territorial integrity of Syria, and the dignified and safe return of refugees and IDPs. Additionally, the report calls on the UN Security Council to allocate a significant amount of funds for clearing live mines left over by the Syrian conflict from the United Nations Mine Action Service, particularly in areas prepared to carry out this task with transparency and integrity.
Additionally, the report calls on the international community to act at the national and regional levels to form alliances to support the Syrian people and to increase support for relief efforts, and to practice their universal jurisdiction to try perpetrators of crimes in Syria before national courts in fair trials for all those involved. The report also calls for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or for the establishment of a tribunal to try crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria as soon as possible to end the shameful impunity that has continued in Syria for well over a decade.
The report also calls on the international community to stop any forcible return of Syrian refugees, since the situation in Syria continues to be unsafe, and to put pressure on the relevant parties to achieve a political transition that would ensure the automatic return of millions of refugees.
In addition, the report calls for ending all attempts to normalize relations with the Syrian regime. Should some of the Arab states believe they are compelled to do so, the report adds, they must require as preconditions: 1.The release of approximately 136,000 political detainees, including 96,000 forcibly disappeared persons; 2. the disclosure of the fate of victims of torture and execution practices in regime detention centers, as well as details of their burial; and 3. Allow the launch of an independent accountability process for all Syrian regime personnel involved in crimes of murder and torture, no matter their security and military ranks and positions. The report also contains a number of other recommendations.