Syria Notes no. 22

Syria Notes no. 22: 28 March 2018 – view and download PDF
  • The non-implementation of Security Council Resolution 2401
    Syria Notes summary
  • Russian air force implicated in string of hospital bombings
    The Syrian Archive, Syrians for Truth and Justice, and Bellingcat
  • Aircraft tracking
    Parliamentary Written Questions on tracking, accountability, and early warning
  • Activists and feminists battle, and we all lose
    Zaina Erhaim
  • UN Commission recommends actions on Syria detainees
    Syria Notes summary
  • Coming home to a death in prison
    Syria Notes summary

Printing of this issue of Syria Notes was funded by Lush Charity Pot.

The non-implementation of Security Council Resolution 2401

FROM SYRIA NOTES no. 22, 28 MARCH 2018

The siege of Eastern Ghouta’s civilian population began in 2013 and tightened significantly in 2017, with multiple deaths of malnourished children and deaths of adults and children who were denied medical evacuation by the Assad regime. As the Assad regime’s advance into Idlib halted along Astana-negotiated lines in mid February 2018, the regime redeployed forces to Eastern Ghouta in preparation for a major assault. That assault began with an escalation in air attacks across the besieged communities of Eastern Ghouta, home to some 400,000 civilians.

From 18 February up to 23 March, the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria counted 2,002 confirmed violent deaths, over 90% of them civilians. At least 279 of those killed were children.

• UN Security Council Resolution 2401
On 24 February 2018, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2401 unanimously. Co-sponsored by Kuwait and Sweden, the resolution demanded a 30-day cessation of hostilities across Syria to enable humanitarian relief.

As well as Eastern Ghouta, the resolution applied to the ongoing assault on YPG-controlled Afrin in Syria’s northwest by Syrian rebel forces and Turkish armed forces that had begun in January 2018. Neither of the military campaigns stopped.

• What came after UNSCR 2401 in Eastern Ghouta
In its report on events after Resolution 2401, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) declared it a failure ‘The resolution failed to stop any type of violations, many of which constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, and even chemical weapons were used.’

SNHR documented attacks on Syria Civil Defence facilities and vehicles, medical facilities, markets—attacks with incendiares, cluster munitions, and chlorine gas—all following the passage of Resolution 2401.

Syria Civil Defence reported 37 people killed in one single attack with incendiaries, mainly women and children, most burned alive, in a shelter in Arbin on the night of 22 March. SNHR put the eventual death toll from that attack at 51 civilians, 20 of them children.

• Chemical attacks
On 7 March, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) brought reports from doctors inside Ghouta of a chlorine attack in Saqba and Hammouria. Doctors in the area said at least 100 were affected, with victims experiencing symptoms consistent with chlorine gas inhalation.

According to Syrian Archive, earlier attacks were reported on 13 January between Douma and Harasta, 22 January in north-western Douma, 1 February in Douma, and 25 February in al-Shefonia town.

• Only Douma remains
On 27 March, OCHA reported to the Security Council that more than 1,700 people had been killed since Resolution 2401. Assad regime forces have taken most of the territory, forcibly displacing over 80,000 civilians.

Aircraft tracking

FROM SYRIA NOTES no. 22, 28 MARCH 2018

Syria Civil Defence, the White Helmets, receive early warning alerts from a network of aircraft spotters inside Syria. As well as dissemination by other means, aircraft spotter reports are issued on the @Sentry_Syria Twitter account. The ‘Six Months On’ report above draws on data from aircraft spotters identifying aircraft operating in the area at the time of each hospital strike.

Below is a table of observations relating to the bombing of the National Hospital in Maarat al-Numan, Idlib province, on 4 February 2018 taken from the ‘Six Months On’ report. The full report also contains aircraft observation data relating to the other hospital attacks.

The Sentry system was the subject of a recent Parliamentary Written Question (131265) from Roger Godsiff MP. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Alistair Burt MP replied:
‘The UK is committed to help protect civilians in Syria. As part of that effort, we have supported Syrian Civil Defence (SCD) since 2013, including having provided £650,000 to support SCD Sentry, an early warning system that aims to provide civilians with as much warning as possible prior to an airstrike—every time, day or night. Warnings are currently accessible through multiple online and over-the-air platforms. We will continue to assess ways that we can help protect civilians in Syria from the devastating impact of the Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes.’
Roger Godsiff also asked (PWQ 131266) ‘if the Government will make an assessment of the potential merits of publishing tracking data on Russian violations of the Syrian ceasefire in a form that is compatible with security requirements.’

The Minister’s reply was in part that ‘the information available to the British Government on Syria originates from a variety of sources, some of which it would not be appropriate to publish.’ An NBC News report from 25 March, NATO’s AWACS give US eyes in the sky over Syria, reports that Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft are tracking Russian military flights in Syria.

UN Commission recommends actions on Syria detainees

FROM SYRIA NOTES no. 22, 28 MARCH 2018

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic this month published a short report titled Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Way Forward.

According to the report, forces of the Assad regime are arbitrarily or unlawfully detaining tens of thousands of people in detention centres throughout Syria. The vast majority are held without due process and without access to legal representation or to their families.

Detainees endure brutal torture and inhumane conditions. Many have died in detention, or have been summarily executed. The bodies of the dead are rarely returned to their families, who are also not notified about burials. The whereabouts of tens of thousands of detainees remains unknown and unacknowledged by the state.

The Commission has documented acts against detainees which amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Armed groups and terrorist organisations have also established places of detention. Captured Syrian government soldiers have been tortured, ill-treated, and, in some cases, summarily executed. Hundreds of civilian men, women, and children have also been held for reasons including punishment for suspected loyalty, to extract ransom, or for prisoner swaps with pro Assad forces. Some have died performing forced labour.

Minority religious groups have also been targeted. Many were moved to Douma, eastern Ghouta, under siege now for nearly five years. Hundreds, primarily women and children, remain in the captivity of armed groups in Douma alone, waiting to be swapped.

[Note: Douma is under the military control of Jaysh al-Islam. Notoriously, on 9 December 2013 four civil opposition activists were taken from their office in Douma by armed men and haven’t been seen since. Razan Zaitouneh, Wa’el Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi are now collectively known as the Douma Four. Jaysh al-Islam are widely held responsible.]

The treatment of detainees by armed groups has amounted to the war crimes of murder, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and also constituted violations of due process principles.

Throughout Kurdish-held northern Syria, the SDF, YPG, and Asayish have been arresting men aged 18 and above for attempting to evade forced conscription. Arrests have been documented in Hasakah, northern Raqqa, and Aleppo governorates. In the same areas, Kurdish forces crack down on political dissenters by arbitrarily arresting men and women supporting competing political parties, as well as those perceived to be insufficiently loyal. The Commission has documented the torture of detained political dissidents by both SDF and YPG forces.

Since 2015, members of the terrorist group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra and now under the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham umbrella) have also committed the war crimes of murder, cruel treatment, and torture in the context of detention, while ISIS terrorists have been responsible for the crimes against humanity of murder and torture against detainees.

United Nations Security Council resolutions 2254 (2015) and 2258 (2015) call on all parties to the conflict to release any arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children.

A way forward

First, the Commission calls for the following immediate actions to serve as confidence building measures among parties to the conflict as well as to help those held in detention, and their families:

  • Immediately and unilaterally release all those most vulnerable in all places of detention, including children, women, the elderly, the disabled, and infirm;
  • Streamline all discussions on a joint Syrian Working Group on detention under the framework of the Geneva peace talks and Resolution 2254;
  • Agree to a timetable for identifying and releasing all arbitrarily or unlawfully detained individuals from official and unofficial detention facilities;
  • Immediately discontinue all forms of incommunicado detention or other forms of deprivation of liberty amounting to enforced disappearance; and
  • Disclose the locations of all official and unofficial places of detention, and provide full lists of the names of all those held in detention.

Second, to address the most pressing protection needs of remaining detainees, the Commission recommends all parties to:

  • Allow unconditional access to all official and unofficial places of detention to the Commission and humanitarian organisations such as the ICRC;
  • Ensure that all persons in custody have routine contact with their families;
  • Commit to inspecting and improving detention conditions to comply with international standards;
  • Take significant measures to protect the lives of all detainees in their custody, in particular by preventing torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, or other abuses;
  • Take measures to discipline or dismiss individuals responsible for violations against detainees; and
  • Immediately suspend capital punishment.

Victims, survivors, and their families will need to know that justice—including criminal accountability, right to truth, and reparations—will not be swept aside but central to any process for achieving a sustainable peace. Documentation such as medical reports, post mortems, death certificates, detention records, locations of gravesites, etc. should be safeguarded and made available to them and to any legitimate mechanism that may be established.

The international community should facilitate the creation of a new independent mechanism with an international mandate to coordinate and consolidate claims regarding missing persons, including persons subjected to enforced disappearance.

Under international law, each party to the conflict is obligated to take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of hostilities and provide their family members with any information it has.

Enhancing justice and accountability are crucial elements for realising and maintaining durable peace, the Commission argues. Political negotiators must not award amnesty to perpetrators of serious human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.


Finally, the Commission recommends that the proposed commitments be seen as benchmarks by the parties to the conflict and the international community at large. UN agencies and major donors among UN Member States and regional organisations should ensure that provision and facilitation of reconstruction funding is contingent upon adherence to these commitments.

Coming home to a death in prison

FROM SYRIA NOTES no. 22, 28 MARCH 2018

Our previous issue included a report by Sally Hayden and Ziad Ghandour on the difficulties and risks facing Syrian refugees trying to return.The Irish Times has published a follow up report by Sally Hayden on recently returned refugees who have died in the Assad regime’s military prisons:
‘All three men were arrested less than three months after coming back, and they died in military prison between two and four months after that. The cause of death in each case was listed on official documentation as a “heart problem”.
‘Rights organisations have previously reported that explanations like “heart attack” and “respiratory issues” are regularly given for Syrian military detainees who die as a result of maltreatment and torture.’
Since that report, a list of 1½ million Syrians wanted by the regime has been published by ZamanAlwsl.

In February, the interagency report, Dangerous ground—Syria’s refugees face an uncertain future, warned that the situation in Syria is far from safe for returning refugees, and that conditions in neighbouring countries pushing them to return put people at great risk.

Idlib Pocket
Holding on to the revolution in Syria’s northwest