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Crime & Justice

Syrian rights group slams Russia for civilian deaths

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo


Two babies are evacuated from the scene of a Russian airstrike in the Idlib province city of Maarat al-Numan on July 22nd. [Photo courtesy of Syrian Network for Human Rights]

In a report issued September 30th, the fourth anniversary of Russia's military intervention in the Syrian conflict, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) slams Russia for committing "hundreds of war crimes" in Syria.

As a result of its actions, Russia cannot be trusted in any political or reconstruction process in Syria, the 40-page report says, noting that the Russian military intervention has resulted in more than 6,500 civilians deaths.

Russia has not apologised for these deaths, nor has it compensated any of the victims' families, the report says, pointing out that it has continued to deny its bombing of hospitals, civil defence facilities and residential neighbourhoods.

The report refutes Russian claims that it intervened in the conflict for the sake of the Syrian people, Syrian lawyer Bashir al-Bassam told Diyaruna this week.


This ambulance was damaged when a Russian airstrike hit a Syrian Civil Defence centre in the village of Sufohon in southern rural Idlib, knocking it out of service. [Photo courtesy of Syrian Civil Defence]


A member of the White Helmets stands amid the rubble of a rural Idlib displacement camp that was targeted by Russian airstrikes. [Photo courtesy of Syrian Civil Defence]

He noted the large number of civilians, including women and children, who were killed by Russian missiles and weapons as Russian forces intervened in support of the brutal regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The report covers the period from September 30th, 2015, when Russia intervened militarily in Syria in support of the regime, to September 30th, 2019.

Over 6,500 civilian casualties

According to evidence collected by Syrian activists on the ground, the report says, Russian forces have killed 6,686 civilians in the last four years, among them 1,928 children and 908 women.

Medics and media activists were among those killed in Russian strikes, according to the report, with 107 medics and 21 media workers losing their lives.

According to the report, al-Bassam noted, the highest number of casualties was recorded in Aleppo province, followed by Idlib and Deir Ezzor.

The report also states that Russian forces have bombed "at least" 1,083 vital facilities that are protected by international conventions in times of war, including 201 schools and 190 medical facilities, he said.

The report also documents 236 instances in which Russian forces used the internationally-banned cluster bomb to carry out attacks, along with 125 instances of incendiary weapon use.

These findings contradict misleading statements and media reports issued by or on behalf of Russian authorities, which claim that Russia is engaged solely in killing terrorists and assisting the Syrian people, the report notes.

It points out that the Russian Ministry of Defence "repeatedly announces its operations and the results of its airstrikes in the most general and indeterminate of terms, claiming that it has killed thousands of terrorist militants".

In issuing these reports, however, it does not specify the locations or identify the terrorist organisation in question, the SNHR report says.

Syrian people pay the price

Al-Bassam said this report refutes Russia's claims that it intervened in Syria for the sake of the Syrian people, making it clear that its main objective was to support the regime and protect its own economic and political interests in Syria.

It has done this at the expense of the Syrian people, "heedless of the consequences or loss of human life", he said.

Russia also is responsible for the mass displacement of civilians, according to the report, with more than 600,000 civilians displaced during recent military operations and 3.3 million civilians overall displaced as a result of its actions.

Al-Bassam said rights activists are moving to escalate the matter internationally and to the UN in an effort to expose Russian untruths.

He pointed out that Russia is supplying the Syrian regime with weapons and military equipment, and this is enabling it to continue to fight.

It is also providing Syria with political support abroad, and has used its veto right to block UN resolutions condemning the Syrian regime on 13 separate occasions, he said.

"We cannot trust any political settlement process sponsored or supervised by Russia, which has, since the early days, supported the Syrian regime in its brutal operations and crimes against humanity, enabling these by 13 UN vetoes," SNHR chairman Fadel Abdul Ghany said, in announcing the report.

"Russia is implicated in war crimes and must apologise for these crimes, then repair what it destroyed, compensate the victims, and stop supporting the dynastic dictatorship of one family in Syria," he said.

"After that, political transition towards democracy, human rights and the reconstruction and stability of Syria and its society can be discussed."

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Who did this to Syria?