7 years without justice in Syria: World turns away as civilian slaughter continues unabated

In Syria by CIHRS

7 years without justice in Syria

World turns away as civilian slaughter continues unabated

Over
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VICTIMS
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Children
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Women

Targeting Civilians

Over half a million Syrians have perished since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. By March 2018, 217764 civilians were killed, as documented by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, including 25,726 women and 27,296 children.Almost 93% of the victims are reported killed by attacks conducted by the Syrian regime under Bashar al-Assad, and its allied forces.. Since February 2018 alone, more than 764 civilians were reported killed from attacks by the Syrian regime and allied forces.

victims killed by the Syrian regime
93%

Targeting civilians is absolutely prohibited under the laws of war. The distinction between civilians and combatants is one of the most fundamental principles upon which international humanitarian law is built. Furthermore, Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), defines the murder of individuals as a "crime against humanity" when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack. The right to life under international human rights law is a basic right given to humanity.  All states are required to protect individuals in their territory against arbitrary deprivation of life. States are required to take measures not only to prevent the deprivation of life and punish those who deprive others of it, but also to prevent arbitrary killing by their own forces. The deprivation of life by the authorities of the State is a matter of the utmost gravity. Therefore, the law must strictly control and limit the circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his/her life by such authorities.

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Civilian Infrastructure, Medical Facilities and Aid Workers


The 7 years of war in Syria has inflicted massive destruction in many locations, including historic sites in some of the oldest cities in the world, including - among others - Homs, Aleppo, and Daraa. The Syrian regime and allied forces have particularly targeted private properties, and civilian infrastructure in the cities and towns that have fallen under opposition control. Most alarmingly, schools and medical facilities have been subjected to widescale destruction. Syrian human rights organizations have documented the destruction of 4000  schools from the beginning of the war in 2011 until end of 2017.  By May 2016 there were  454 strikes targeting 310 medical facilities. According to a recent report by UNICEF, in 2017 there were 175 attacks on education and health facilities and personnel. 112 medical, civil defense, and Red Crescent personnel were killed in 2017, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

By end of 2017
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Schools destroyed
By May 2016
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strikes targeting medical facilities
Until end of 2017
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Schools destructio

Customary international humanitarian law prohibits attacks against objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Humanitarian law further gives preferential treatment to medical personnel, who should be respected and protected at all times and should not be the object of attack. Civilian hospitals may in no circumstances be the object of attack, and should at all times be respected and protected by the parties to a conflict.

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Indiscriminate Attacks in Heavily Populated Areas


The Syrian regime and its allied forces use indiscriminate attacks in heavily populated areas as a method of warfare. These attacks are conducted by air and land. Local Syrian human rights groups have documented many indiscriminate attacks causing the death of thousands of civilians. From March 2011 until the end of December 2016, most direct deaths of Syrian civilians were caused by wide-area weapons, as found by a joint study between the Syrian Violation Documentation Center and the Lancelet Global Health. Civilians account for over70% of the deaths caused by indiscriminate attacks.

CIVILIAN DEATHS CAUSED BY INDISCRIMINATE ATTACKS
70%

The gravest type of indiscriminate attack is barrel bombing. Barrel bombs utilize a very cheap but deadly technique to maximize casualties. Composed of oil barrels, fuel tanks or gas cylinders packed with explosives, fuel, and metal fragments, the Syrian regime drops them from helicopters, usually on marketplaces, hospitals, sites of worship, and other areas where civilians would gather. According to the Lancelet- VDC study, over 7500 people were killed by barrel bombing. Over 97% of the barrel bomb deaths by the end of 2016 were civilians; children constituted over 25% of these victims. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, since the start of the war to December 2017, nearly 70,000 barrel bombs were dropped by regime forces.

By end of 2017
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barrel bombs dropped by Syrian regime forces

BARREL BOMB DEATHS BY END OF 2016
Civilians - 97%
BARREL BOMB DEATHS BY END OF 2016
Children - 25%

The use of weapons that indiscriminately target civilians, and cannot guarantee the distinction between civilians and combatants, is strictly prohibited under humanitarian law. Article 8(2)(b)(xx) of the 1998 ICC Statute considers "employing weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare … which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict" to constitute a war crime.

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Prohibited weapons


Beyond targeting civilians with indiscriminate weapons, the Syrian regime uses other weapons prohibited by international law against civilians, such as its alleged use of cluster ammunition. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented 431 cluster ammunition attacks by the Syrian-Russian alliance, dropped by air, in areas inhabited by civilians.

Dropped by air
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cluster ammunition attacks by Syrian-Russian alliance, in civilian areas

The most alarming aspect of the Syrian regime’s recurrent use of prohibited weapons is its use of chemical weapons. From 2013 onwards, reports have indicated the use of chemical weapons against civilians in several areas and locations. The chemical weapons used include the nerve agent sarin and chlorine gas. The regime used chemical weapons in two locations in 2014 and 2015, as confirmed by a2016 report by the joint investigative mechanism (JIM) between the UN and the Organization on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Ever since, many other reports by the JIM and the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria (CoI) have confirmed the use of chemical weapons both by the Syrian regime and ISIS, in various locations throughout Syria. 

The use of chemical weapons in any armed conflict is absolutely prohibited by international customary law, but also relevant international treaties including the Hague Declaration concerning Asphyxiating Gases, the Geneva Gas Protocol, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Statute of the International Criminal Court. This is a position shared by confirmed practice, and reaffirmed by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) on several occasions.

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Detention and Torture


The Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria (CoI) released a report in February 2016 entitled "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" about detention and torture in Syria. The report concluded that the Syrian regime has committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts. These same practices also amount to war crimes. Syrian human rights organizations have documented at least 13,000 cases of detainees killed as a result of torture since 2011. A large number of deaths were caused by the inhumane conditions in the regime's detention facilities. These conditions include overcrowded cells where prisoners are often forced to stand and sleep in shifts, lack of clean drinking water and insufficient food, and insanitary conditions that cause the spread of disease and infections.

At least
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Detainees killed by Torture

Between 2011 and 2015, an estimated number of nearly 13,000 people, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at the regime’s Saydnaya Military Prison, as documented by a 2017 Amnesty International report. Human Rights Watch has estimated that almost 117,000 people have been disappeared and detained in Syrian regime detention facilities since 2011.

At least
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Disappeared and detained in Syrian regime detention facilities
Between 2011 and 2015
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civilians hanged in secret at Saydnaya Military Prison

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Besiegement and Prohibiting Access to Humanitarian Aid


The besiegement of civilian areas and restrictions on humanitarian aid by regime forces has been a method of warfare since the beginning of the conflict to pressure the opposition to surrender. Around 540,000 persons are trapped in besieged areas with the majority living in Eastern Ghouta, as estimated by UN OCHA in June 2017.

Under siege
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Majority in Eastern Ghouta

Humanitarian conditions in besieged opposition areas are gravely concerning.  The sieges cause many cases of malnutrition and dehydration, and spread disease; resulting in the death of many civilians. The most vulnerable segment of the impacted population is usually children. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented 914 civilian deaths since 2011 due to starvation and lack of access to medicine, including almost 400 children.

Dead from starvation
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Civilians
Dead from starvation
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Children

Besiegement is considered as a form of collective punishment absolutely prohibited according to customary international law. In addition, Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, considers the use of starvation as a method of warfare to be a war crime.

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Forcible Transfer of Civilians


13.5 Syrians million have been displaced during the 7 years of conflict. Among which 7.5 million are internally displaced, and almost 5 million refugees. International law permits warring parties to give the  civilian population the opportunity to leave an area where fighting is taking place and seek refuge. It also obliges third states to host populations that are fleeing fighting for the sake of protecting their lives. However, international law does not permit parties to the conflict to prevent the civilian population from returning to their homes once it is safe.  In 2017, many "reconciliation agreements" have led to forcibly transferring populations, as a form of swap to ensure ceasefires. The most notable of those is the March 2014 “Four Towns Agreement,” where the inhabitants of the towns of Madaya and Zabadani were evacuated in exchange for the inhabitants the towns of Fouah and Kefraya. Similarly, in the aftermath of the 2016 Syrian-Russian attack on Aleppo, thousands of people were forced to leave Eastern Aleppo to the Idlib province after a Russian-Turkish agreement, supervised by the ICRC.

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Displaced
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Internally displaced

Forcible displacement of civilians during conflicts is strictly prohibited in whole or in part, for reasons related to the conflict, unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand.  Displacing civilians arbitrarily constitutes a war crime. In a specialized March 2017 report requested by the Human Rights Council on the events in Aleppo, the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria (CoI) criticized the arrangement to evacuate civilians in Aleppo, considering it to amount to forced displacement.


A child sleeps in a bag in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018.

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