HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
7. Syria GENERAL, POLITICAL AND LEGAL OVERVIEW As the violence continues to plague Syria for the fourth consecutive year, many instances of human rights violations have been documented.86 Syria is party to the Geneva Conventions and has ratified a number of international laws and conventions pertaining to human rights, states of war and mercenaries. However, it has not ratified Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts, despite the country remaining bound to international customary law applying to the noninternational armed conflict raging in the country since February 2012. Both the Syrian regime and armed groups involved in the Syrian conflict have been accused of committing human rights violations.
86 UN reports about the human rights situation in Syria relied heavily on information provided by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which has a team of 23 researchers and human rights activists working inside and outside of Syria.
The right to freedom, fair trial and treatment â€˘
Arbitrary detention and absence of fair trail
There has been an exponential increase in the number of arrests and raids carried out by the Syrian Government and its allied militias. No less than 4,570 cases of arrest have been documented; among them were 58 women and 230 children. Detainees are, in most cases, referred to military or field courts where they are charged without evidence or released on exorbitant bails. The release of 1,375 Syrians were documented in 2014, most of who were not activists or opposed to the regime. Detainees are usually placed in an overcrowded room without judicial oversight and are not allowed to communicate with their families or lawyers. Earlier in 2014, the Syrian Government began releasing detainees in a number of areas after an agreement between several opposition movements. However, most of those released were later rearrested. Between January and July 2014, we documented more than 1,860 cases in which detainees were re-arrested, most of them in Homs and Rif Dimashq. Cases include the following: 1. Baraâ€™ Malitoot, 24-years old, is an
62 Alawite from Latakia. She was arrested with her husband on 29th November 2012. She was pregnant at the time of arrest and gave birth during her detention at Adra Central Prison in Damascus. Her baby girl died 12 days later, allegedly because the prison wardens refused to refer her to a paediatrician. Malitoot was tried before the Field Court, which is notorious for its harsh sentences that are exempt from appeal. 2. Rasha Shurbaji, 32-years old, is from Daria in Rif Dimashq. She was arbitrarily arrested with her three children and two sisters-in-law on 22nd May 2014. She was seven months pregnant at the time of her arrest and her three children were all under the age of four. Reports have suggested that the family was held at the Political Security branch in Damascus before later being transferred to an intelligence branch where Shurbaji later gave birth to twins. 3. The Syrian actress Laila Awad also joined the long list of Syrian artists and entertainers held by the regime when she was arrested on 16th December 2013. She was initially held at the Khateeb Branch State Security before being transferred to Adra Central Prison where she is due to appear before the Counter-terrorism Court. 4. Abeer Mohammed Hani alLahham, 40-years old, was arrested on 2nd January 2013 along with her husband, two children, mother-in-
law and her husbandâ€™s uncle. She has undergone a kidney transplant and requires daily medications that are often withheld from her. 5. Samar Kokash, 48-years old, is the daughter of director Alaadin Kokash and actress Malak Sokar. Samar is married with two daughters. She was arrested and sent to the 215th security branch in Damascus, notorious for its brutality. She is currently facing charges before the Counter-terrorism Court. â€˘
Many detainees forcefully disappear and although Syria has not ratified The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, it is party to The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits enforced disappearance. â€˘
Torture and death
At least five cases of death by torture are recorded daily. Military Intelligence branches 215 and 227, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate branch in al-Maza, Political Security branch, Air Force Intelligence branch in Aleppo and Hama and Military Intelligence branch in Homs are widely considered as having the worst torture record. More than 1,744 people have died under torture since the beginning of 2014.
63 Cases include the following: 1. Amal al-Fahmawi was a schoolteacher and aid activist from the al-Nu’aima town, east of Daraa. On 15th December 2012, security forces raided her home and questioned her in front of her young children. As the questioning and beating intensified, Amal slapped the interrogating officer. She was then taken to an adjacent home and shot in the head. Her home was burnt down with her family still inside. 2. Rihab Mohammed al-Illawi was a third year engineering student. Air Force Intelligence Officers arrested her at her home in January 2013. She was transferred to the Palestine Security Branch where she died under torture on 15th February 2013. Rihab was buried in a mass grave in the Najh area. 3. Walaa Mohammed was 23 years of age and from Rif Dimashq. She also died under torture on 15th February 2013 at the Palestine Security Branch. 4. Hazim Fouad al-Lahham was married with two children and an electronic engineer from Damascus. He founded the jawall1123.com website which specialised in mobile phones software. Hazim was arrested and tortured so brutally he died on 11th August 2014 at a detention centre. 5. Maher Abdulqadir, 35-years old, was a member of the Aleppo Lawyers’ Syndicate and the Union of Aleppo Lawyers. He was arrested in early February 2012 near his office in
Aleppo. On 6th June 2014 his family learnt of his death under torture at the Air Force Intelligence Branch in Aleppo. His body was taken to Tishreen Military Hospital and was later burned at the new cemetery in Aleppo. 6. Wael Waleed Kani was a 20-year old basketball player at the al-Wihda club. He was arrested at a checkpoint in Damascus on 4th September 2012. His family learned later that he died at Branch 285 on 20th June 2014.
The right to freedoms of the press and expression •
The Syrian Regime has persisted with its policy of systematically targeting journalists and reporters, many of whom are killed or arrested in the line of duty. More than 42 reporters died under torture in the period between January and September 2014. Cases include the following: 1. Mohammed Omar Hamid alKhateeb was a reporter. He was tortured to death at Sednaya Prison after being held for two and a half years. His family was officially notified of his death on 27th June 2014. 2. Ahmed Abulqadir Hasram was also a reporter tortured to death. Hasram had been arrested at his house in Damascus two years prior. His family learned of his death in August 2013 and he was buried in the town of alQatifa in Rif Dimashq.
64 3. Ibrahim Abdul Razzaq al-Hamdan was a member of the Palmyra Liaison Committee and was also tortured to death after being arrested by the Military Security Forces in Palmyra before being transferred to Intelligence Branch 215 in Damascus. His family was notified of his death on a visit to the branch. 4. Assad Bajrook was the founder of Shamuna Magazine. He tragically died from the severe wounds he sustained following an airstrike on Martyr Square in the town of Huritan, north of Aleppo, on 18th of July.
The right to life and security â€˘
Massacres and other extrajudicial killings
Government forces have killed more than 14,274 civilians, including 3,916 children, 2,149 women and 1,744 who died under torture between January and September 2014. Women and children constitute almost 42% of the total number of dead civilians. This acts as clear evidence that government forces are targeting civilians through indiscriminate bombings and extrajudicial killings. More than 568 civilians have been killed in sniper attacks, 49 of those were children and 82 were women. Cases include the following: 1. On 9th February, Syrian troops killed three women in the al-Jalma village in Hama.
2. On 13th April, Syrian warplanes bombed the city of Doma in Rif Dimashq with two missiles hitting an open market. 21 people, including five women and four children, were killed. 3. On 13th July, armed militias from the Democratic Union Party raided the villages of Hajjia and Tel Hamis in Hasaka executing 42 people, including 15 children and three women. 4. On 21st September, warplanes bombed two agricultural projects near Idlib killing 19 civilians, including nine children and six women. 5. On 8th October, government forces stationed at the War College in Homs levelled a residential building with an explosive barrel and a number of missiles. The attack killed four children, three women and one man. Evidence began emerging at the end of 2011 alluding to the existence of Shiite fighters fighting alongside the Syrian regime. Rebels arrested militants belonging to the Mahdi Army, a paramilitary group created by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The most conclusive evidence of the presence of Shiite militants came in the summer of 2012 when the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade made an appearance amid calls for protecting Shiite shrines. These calls were accompanied by sectarian propaganda on the internet and on satellite channels. Hezbollah joined the fight in April 2013. The following months witnessed an increase in the number of Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite
65 militants fighting alongside the Syrian army.
set on fire and countless women were raped.
The Iraqi Government facilitated the flow of fighters into Syria. There is also evidence that the Iraqi Army itself took part in the fighting. While the Iraqis and the Lebanese make up the bulk of the foreign fighters fighting alongside the regime on a sectarian basis, there are Afghanis, Pakistanis, Yemenis and Africans supporting the Syrian army. These militias committed many violations, most significantly in Aleppo during 2014. Cases include the following:
4. On 15th May 2013, Hezbollah fighters committed a massacre in the village of Um Amood. 15 civilians were killed and their bodies were later found in a well in the village.
1. On 22nd February, the Abu alFadel al-Abbas Brigade committed a massacre in Aleppo. 26 young men were executed after being kidnapped and blindfolded from al- Khanasser Town Cultural Centre. The young men were sprayed with bullets before their bodies were carried to Mount Shabeeth to be buried. 2. On 21st June 2013, a massacre was committed at Rasm al-Nafl village in Rif Aleppo. Regime forces and its allied militias massacred more than 280 civilians. Most of the dead were children and women. 3. On 27th March 2013, Syrian troops and Shiite militias moved to open an open road cut off by rebels near the town of al-Safira. On their way there, they raided the village of al-Malikia. As many as 69 innocent villagers, many of whom were women and children, were killed that day. Scores of houses were
5. Syrian forces and Hezbollah fighters committed a massacre at the village of al-Mazraa. At least 95 civilians were killed, including many women and children. Some of the bodies were thrown into a well in the village whilst the rest were burnt. The death of 250 residents of the village, mostly civilians, have been documented. 6. On 1st March, Hezbollah fighters committed a massacre in the village of Tall Shegheb District of Aleppo. At least six young men were killed and their bodies burnt. 7. Armed militias took over homes in many cities and towns around the country after killing their residents. These include the villages and towns of Khanasser, al-Hammam, al-Qirbattia, Hujaira and Um Myal to name but a few. According to human rights organisations, at least 3,139 people have been killed by ISIL since the beginning of the year. The victims who died as a result of bombings, torture or executions include 2,417 rebels and 722 civilians (including 119 children and 68 women). On 5th January, ISIL executed 17 detainees belonging to a rebel
66 group, and on 8th January, the death of 50 detainees were documented, many of them civilians and reporters, at the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo. During the month of August, ISIL killed more than 196 people from Dier al-Zour. •
Since 2011, the Syrian regime has used sexual violence against female detainees to extract information and confessions or to revenge the actions of male relatives. Many female detainees are sexually harassed during body inspections at government detention centres. The regime also resorted to the services of thugs to rape women during raids on civilian homes. In many instances, the whole family is raped as a form of collective punishment. One of the victims from Aleppo was a 25-year old unmarried student at Aleppo University. She was arrested in early 2014 while filming security forces near Aleppo University campus. After being held for eight months at the Military Intelligence Services in Aleppo where six officers raped her on daily basis, she was released after falling pregnant. One month later, she threw herself out of the window of a thirdfloor apartment in Hama. •
The great number of children who have perished in the Syrian conflict
is a strong indicator that more often than not, it is residential areas that come under fire. It is estimated that government forces killed 3,916 children in 2014 alone. Twentyseven children died under torture at detention centres. On 30th April 2014, a warplane bombed a school in Aleppo where 400 children were studying, killing 17 children and three adults. The siege imposed by the Government on Ghouta and Yarmuk refugee camp led to the death of 42 children in 2014. As food and medications became increasingly scarcer the number is set to increase. •
Targeting of personnel protected by international law
The Syrian Government have continued to target hospitals, health centres and pharmacies as well as hospital and medical workers who are subjected to torture, abductions, harassment and death. In 2014, more than 63 medical workers were killed. The month of May witnessed the death of 18 medical staff members, including seven doctors and two pharmacists. During the month of August, 21 medical workers were killed including nine doctors, one of whom died under torture. Other cases include the following: 1. On 28th January, Syrian army forces bombed Kafr Zeita Hospital. Most of the hospital’s equipment and operating theatres were destroyed.
67 2. On 15th May, warplanes bombed Jasem Hospital in Daraa destroying most of the building. The attack killed a doctor, three nurses and a child. 3. On 20th May, Syrian warplanes dropped an explosive barrel on Tel Rifaat field hospital in Aleppo destroying most of the hospitals façade and a warehouse housing oxygen tanks, medications and medical supplies. At least one medical worker was killed in the attack and 15 others injured. 4. On 28th July, Syrian forces bombed a medical point in the town of al-Nashabia in Rif Dimashq killing two doctors. 5. On 23rd August, Syrian warplanes bombed a hospital in al-Tabaka town in al-Raqqa killing four people, three of whom were doctors. 6. Iyad Hussein al-Homsi was a 45year old doctor who worked at al-Sharq hospital in Daraa and a field hospital in the town of al-Hirak. He was arrested at al-Sharq hospital and his family was notified of his death on 3rd August. 7. Mohammed Attfa was a 21-year old Child Counsellor at the Syrian Red Crescent in Homs. He was arrested on 3rd February 2013 at a checkpoint in Homs. During the first few months of his arrest his family learned he had lost most of his cognitive skills due to torture. He was declared dead on 4th July 2014.
Targeting places of worship
Syrian government forces have also deliberately targeted places of worship such as churches and mosques, targeting religious and cultural workers. On 17th January, government forces bombed Madira Mosque in Rif Dimashq killing 19 civilians, including two children. On 16th April, Syrian warplanes bombed the Lady of Peace Church in Homs inflicting grave damage on the building. On 27th April, al-Omari Mosque in Busra al-Sham was shelled by the Syrian army, which resulted in the destruction of its historic minaret. •
The Syrian Government adopted a policy of laying siege to areas under the control of militants. From 19th October 2013 onwards, military checkpoints have laid siege to eastern Ghouta preventing medications, fuel and food supplies from entering the area. The siege caused widespread malnutrition and dehydration. There is also an increased spread of medical epidemics as a result of pollution caused by an accumulation of garbage. More than 183 people have been killed, including 134 children and 22 women. The Syrian Army also laid siege to 14 neighbourhoods in Homs from 9th June 2012 until February 2014. More than 3,800 people spent close to 600 days suffering from severe food, water and medical shortages.
68 The United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent evacuated families over a six-day period. They were transferred to a school for three months. On 8th September, the Government cut off all water supplies to the Yarmuk refugee camp and al-Tadamun neighbourhood in Damascus. Both areas are still without water.
Illegal weaponry •
Barrel explosives, scud missiles and a cocktail of other weapons are used by the regime to bomb various parts of Syria. Almost 95% of the attacks are indiscriminate, targeting both fighters and civilians. The remaining 5% are disproportionate attacks on militant bases. The city of Daria in Rif Dimashq was hit by more than 300 barrel bombs between 1st January and 20th February 2014. The bombings often target civilian locations such as the Mar Takla Church and field hospitals. In this case 29 civilians were killed, including seven women and seven children, and a further 250 were injured.
targeted the vegetable market in the al-Maisar neighbourhood on Tuesday 28th January and a children’s school in Daraa on Tuesday 4th February. 3. On 12th February, the Syrian Army dropped two explosive barrels on a residential area in Daraa killing 13 civilians. 3. On 18th February, Syrian warplanes bombed a town in Daraa with barrel bombs killing 19 civilians, including four children and five women. 4. On 2nd April, warplanes dropped an explosive barrel in Sakoor in Aleppo killing eight civilians including a woman and child. •
Other cases include the following:
Despite the Security Council Decision 2118 adopted on 27th September 2013 to ban the use of chemical weapons, the Syrian Government has continued to use chemical weapons no less than 47 times in 18 areas in 2014. These weapons resulted in the death of 48 people, including 25 armed militants, seven hostages and 16 civilians. At least 1000 others were also injured.
1. Between 28th January and 14th February, the Syrian Army dropped more than 508 barrel explosives on residential areas in Aleppo. The attacks killed more than 843 people, only seven of whom were fighters. Among the dead were 221 children and 119 women. One of the attacks
On 22nd May, the towns of Kafr Zita (Hama), Atshan (Hama) and al-Taman’a (Idlib) were bombed with more than four explosive barrels laden with poisonous gas. The town of Kafr Zita in Hama was attacked on 12 different occasions, with 16 explosive barrels laden with poisonous gases between
69 10th April and 28th August. Between 8th and 22nd September, government forces attacked Dukhania in Rif Dimashq on nine different occasions with poisonous gases. •
More cluster bombs have been used by the Syrian regime in 2014 than in all of the years of conflict combined. No less than 83 attacks with cluster bombs since 25th January 2013 were documented. More than 49 people, including 16 children and four women, were killed in these attacks and around 250 were injured. Aleppo was targeted on 34 different occasions and Idlib was attacked 11 times. Cases include the following: 1. On 18th March, Syrian forces dropped cluster bombs on four residential areas in Aleppo, al-Sheikh Faris neighbourhood, al-Sheik Kahader, Ba’adeen and Bustan al-Basha. Hama was attacked with cluster bombs 18 times, 11 of which were against Kafr Zita. 2. On 1st August, Syrian warplanes dropped a missile laden with cluster bombs on an orchard in Mi’rzaf. The missile exploded as people rushed to the scene killing 11 people, including six children and two women. 3. On 25th of March, government forces shelled the town of Khan Shaikoon with cluster bombs killing four civilians, including a woman.
4. Daraa was similarly attacked with cluster bombs nine times and Rif Dimashq five times, while Homs was attacked three times and al-Quanitara once.