The Coalition and the Russians… Violations that hinder the Humanitarian Laws and reinforces injustice in Syria
It is obvious that the residents in the areas under ISIS’s control in Syria, consider the international coalition led by the United States, as an aggression that is not less brutal than the heads of the alleged caliphate. Perhaps the victims questioned the purpose of the military actions that killed the civilians under the pretext of “fighting against terrorism”. Therefore, in its broad and international sense, terrorism has become an umbrella which allows killing innocents.
The International Coalition claimed that it executed raids that killed Syrian civilians on several occasions, and said that it will investigate other facts. However, it denied the accusations of committing serious massacres. One of them happened recently, at the beginning of March in the village of Al-Mansoura in the western countryside of Raqqa, when activists documented that tens of immigrant civilians were killed by an air strike, which the American General Stephen J. Townsend described it as “a clean strike”.
The “clean” strikes that has been recently and notably escalating that were aimed to “fight against terrorism” and “promote democracy and civil peace”, according to the American concept of violations, were concurrently executed along with similar strikes in terms of the declared goals and objectives of Russia, the Syrian regime’s ally. According to local and international human rights organizations, Russia has hindered international humanitarian laws in Syria and reinforced the oppression of the Sunni citizens. This may have a negative impact on the region and may be the reason for the emergence of new extremist organizations since “Killing innocent people is like upbringing wolves”, according to a tweet of a Syrian journalist in Twitter.
In this file, Enab Baladi focuses on the violations that the International Coalition against ISIS was accused of committing them, their legal evaluation and their impact on the Syrian society in general, based on several points of views, human rights experts, and specialists, while considering highlighting the provisions of international laws and charters in this regard, and statistics which reveal the severity of the tragedy.
Massacres Against Civilians That the International Coalition and The Russians Denied Committing Them
Local and international human rights organizations of the International coalition, and Russia were accused of committing six massacres against civilians in different parts of Syria in less than a year (as an example and not in total). However, the two sides denied committing these massacres in separate statements.
The Massacre Of “Tokhar” In Manbij
A separate human rights sources accused the International Coalition of carrying out raids on the town of Tokhar Kabir located in Manbij district in the eastern countryside of Aleppo on July 19, 2016. Activists said 125 people, mostly women and children, were killed, while ISIS said there were more than 160 victims.
The coalition’s spokesman, Colonel Christopher Garver commented on the incident by saying that “the coalition was studying reports of civilian deaths” but it was “very careful” to make sure that the raids would only kill “the militants of ISIS”. He added: “It was decided that the raid would target both the buildings and vehicles of ISIS. However, various sources issued reports which talked about the possibility of the existence of civilians among the militants of the terrorist movement which it uses as human shields”.
The Mosque of “Al-Jinah” In Idlib
Local human rights sources accused the United States of carrying out a massacre of civilians in the village of Al-Jinah in the countryside of Idlib, on March 16, 2017, which killed between 47 and 49 people, according to the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”.
The US military denied that its aircraft had bombed the mosque and said it had targeted an al-Qaeda gathering 15 meters away from the mosque, and added that a number of what it calls terrorists had been killed.
A spokesman for the United Stated Central Command, claimed that the location that was targeted was “destroyed” and that the mosque is still standing, while pictures from activists showed that the mosque was largely destroyed. The spokesman also said that the precise location of this strike ” was unclear”, and added that an investigation would be opened concerning what he described “allegations” that the raid may have killed civilian victims.
“Al-Mansoura” School in Raqqa
Local human rights sources accused the International Coalition of carrying out raids that targeted a school that was sheltering immigrants in the town of Al-Mansoura in the western countryside of Raqqa, on March 21, 2017, which killed around 33 to 53 civilians, including children, according to separate sources.
“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” said that the coalition carried out a massacre that killed 33 civilians, including children, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that the airstrike “caused the death of 53 civilians, including 12 children”.
The commander of US forces in Iraq, General Stephen J. Townsend, denied that the school contained immigrants. He said: “We have confirmed and multiple intelligence sources that told us that the enemy is using that school. We noticed that, and saw what we expected to see”. He added without giving evidence: “I want to tell you that we did not complete our assessment of this incident, I think it was a clean strike”.
Targeting Idlib’s Neighborhoods
Activists from human rights organizations, including the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, accused The Russian Air Force of carrying out a massacre in the city of Idlib, on February 7, 2017, in which 28 people, mostly civilians, were killed.
General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, commented on the incident by saying “The Russian Air Force’s planes did not strike Syria’s city of Idlib neither yesterday, nor this week or even since the beginning of the year, and all the news about these strikes are lies”. He added: “It is remarkable that the media are fabricating such news reports according to unified and periodic templates, based on unknown activists of the civil defense”.
Relief convoy in Aleppo
The Syrian opposition and Western countries, including the United States and Britain, accused the Russian air force of targeting an international relief convoy in Western Aleppo, on 19 September 2017, which caused the death of 32 people, including 12 Red Crescent volunteers, according to the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denied accusations against Moscow about the strike, by saying that the American administration “has no facts” to support its claim.
Field Hospitals of Aleppo
International organizations, including the “Atlantic Council” in Washington, accused the Russian Air Force of destroying three hospitals in Aleppo in an air campaign that lasted from September to December 2016, which caused the death of 440 civilians, including 90 children, according to “Human Rights Watch” organization.
The spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, General Igor Konashenkov, denied targeting Aleppo hospitals. He said “The reports of the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which is based in Britain, and other similar sources, which claimed that the Russian air force planes bombed the third hospital in Aleppo during 24h are pure lies. ”
Despite the repeated attempts to deny carrying out the massacres against the civilians, the coalition has admitted more than once that there were war victims. The most notable confession is that of the statement of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in the Middle East, in November 2016, when it said that the American raids caused the death of 119 civilians in Syria And Iraq since August 2014.
Legal assessment of the massacres attributed to the International Coalition
To address the legal assessment of the alleged violations of the international coalition, Enab Baladi enquired Fadel Abdul Ghani, director of the “Syrian Human Rights Network”, about the mechanism of dealing with violations under the pretext of “fighting against terrorism”. He answered by saying: “We have issued several reports about massacres that are committed by the International coalition forces against the civilians, and we have twice recorded their shelling of the armed opposition”.
He also pointed out that “There are many massacres that were committed against the civilians and we said that they amount to war crimes, because the coalition forces entered Syria because of the conflict, they have to abide by international humanitarian law, and distinguish between military and civilian targets”.
Concerning the coalition’s attempts to justify its mistakes under the pretext of “wrong information”, Abdul Ghani said: “We do not care about the details about the coalition getting the wrong intelligence information from their allies, the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces or the (Syrian Democratic Forces), must be fully responsible”.
He continued explaining the mechanism of the network by saying: “We issue reports that document the massacres, and send them to the States that are part of the coalition, mainly to the US Department of State, and they are fully aware of them”. He also pointed out that: “The US Department of State has repeatedly asked us about details of some incidents. We discussed this issue at our recent meeting and we held them accountable”.
Based on reports issued by the human rights network, the Pentagon admitted the occurrence of 71 incidents of shelling in which only civilians were killed, according to Abdul Ghani who said: “We have a file of incidents that they have admitted”.
Munif al-Taei, director of the Urnamo Organization for Justice and Human Rights in Syria, considers that the international coalition “does not care about the law of war”.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, he said: “The international coalition is composed of around 60 countries that classify themselves as human rights defenders. They do not care about the law of war that states that civilians must be neutralized from conflicts”. He called on the United Nations to force these countries to “strictly abide by the neutralization of civilians”. He also warned that repeating the massacres “undermines the credibility of the coalition in the war against ISIS”.
The massacres committed by the coalition forces against civilians can only be considered as “crimes”, according to the Syrian writer and political researcher Sasha Alaluo, who explained that the United Nations must intervene to limit these crimes. Alaluo opened a serious investigation concerning the nature of those “crimes”, especially that they were concurrently committed between Mosul and Syria in a suspicious manner, and caused a very large number of victims, as he described.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Alaluo expressed that he was surprised by the statements of Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, in which he did not demand to stop the military operations in Mosul, but instead he considered the media escalation against the international coalition is a propaganda used by ISIS to obstruct the military operations. While “in Syria we did not notice any condemnation of the massacre by the official opposition institutions or even the regime”.
The results of investigations against the coalition’s violations, if opened, will not be revealed any sooner, but they may last for years to be assessed, as Alaluo suggested. He added by saying: “The experience of violations of US soldiers in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, which did not turn into legal cases and files until the US withdrawal, may prove the nature of dealing with this type of files”.
According to the three specialists, admitting the violations is a moral step for the coalition in the right direction, but it would not be enough. Fadel Abdul Ghani said that the admission “must be followed by steps, first of them has to be stopping the massacres, fixing the mistakes which the coalition originally admitted committing them, and then compensating the families of the victims, compensating the material losses, and accounting and prosecuting the officers who committed these crimes, this has to be public to deter other officers”.
Sasha Alaluo considers that “An investigation is required in the nature of the intelligence to determine the location of the bombing, to clearly reveal who is responsible for those operations, in order to take practical measures of accountability in exchange for compensating the victims and to develop new mechanisms to target ISIS’s sites in a way that ensures that the risk of targeting civilians is minimized, especially that ISIS still controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, which forms a real threat to hundreds of thousands of civilians”.
Has the international coalition become an enemy of the Syrian people?
The social media were flooded with photos of the victims of the massacres attributed to the International Coalition in the areas of ISIS, or the American raids on Northern Syria. This has led to a significant hatred against the Western countries in general, which not only let down the Syrian revolution, but also contributed to the murder of civilians, according to their views.
Fadel Abdul Ghani, considered that hostility “is measured by the amount of damage caused and who made it. There are multiple factors and different elements that are involved in interpreting the hostility and its degree, this needs to be separately analyzed”. He added: “But the biggest degree of hostility, according to facts and not aspirations, is still against the Syrian regime since it is considered as the first culprit of the massacres, which brought all these authorities as a result of its repression and brutality.
Abdul Ghani categorized the “ISIS” as one of the most prominent enemies of the Syrian people, as it is considered as “very nihilist, brutal and expiatory and it is impossible to coexist with it. And perhaps if it owned the state’s institutions and capabilities, it would be more deadly and bloody than the Syrian regime”.
The Syrian human rights activist pointed out that the Russian forces occupies the third rank of hostility, as it is clear that they were deliberately bombing schools and hospitals, and stood by the Syrian regime logistically and politically. He also criticized the United States of America by saying: “it may be held responsible on the other hand, because its president announced, in July 2011, that Assad must leave, took no action to make him leave, bypassed the red lines, including the chemical issue, and repeatedly let down the Syrian people”.
The Syrian researcher Sasha Alaluo stated that: “If we logically categorize the enemies of the Syrian people, we will label at least half of the world including the international community, regional groups and the Syrian regime, as well as the local factions allegedly belonging to the revolution. The issue reaches beyond the enemy, as the Syrian people are victimized by more than a rival. Thus, asking for retaliation is a challenging task. Thus, like in the incident when the tribes unified, each using its own tools and techniques, to kill the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)”.
The injustices committed against “Sunni” people: an alert of a harder future
Experts in the affairs of Jihadi groups in Syria warned about the emergence of extremist organizations legitimizing their existence through the pretext of the oppression exerted against Sunni locals inhabiting the ISIS controlled territories. These locals were bombarded, killed and deported by many armed groups and most importantly by the global coalition, Russia and “the Syrian Democratic Forces”, which mimics the surfacing experience of ISIS upon the wrecks of the American bombardments 10 years ago.
Fadel Abdul Ghani considered that “ISIS is taking advantage from such massacres and the oppression against the Sunnis which is considered as one of the reasons of its emergence and the high levels of extremism and exaggeration in religion expressed by its members”. Hence, he added:” There is tyranny, repression and a lack of justice in society. The oppressor is expanding dominion and barbarism further which generates a sense of injustice and an envy to burst. As such, alliances for the aim of taking revenge are to be formed raising religious and ideological slogans justifying its existence”.
Mr. Abdul Ghani also talked about the circumstances of al-Nusra Front’s access into Syria, saying:” the number of Syrians admitted into al- Nusra was limited. The youth joined the movement as a result of the disastrous situation in Syria and the constant killings. Hence, the same reasons brought other Syrians to join ISIS”.
The head of the “Urnamo” organization, Munif al-Taei agreed with Fadel Abdul Ghani and considered that “one of the most prominent causes of the emergence of ISIS is the regime’s excessive use of violence against the opposition at the beginning of the upheavals in Syria. Nonetheless, the justifications of many people who took parts within terrorist organizations consisted mainly of their feeling of oppression being provided with no sense of justice in this world. As such, they deduced that revenge is the sole path to be taken”. Al-Taei also clarified that: “if we want to eliminate these phenomena, we need to initiate a phase of transitional justice in order to secure even a little sense of justice for the victims’ families”.
The researcher Sasha Alaluo also deduced that “it is natural that these crimes and violations serve the propaganda of ISIS and increase feelings of oppression and injustice among in the Sunni Arab component sensing that it is specifically targeted from various quarters, whether its partners in the homeland or ISIS. In fact, until this day ISIS violations are committed only within the Sunni Arab segment in which the terrorist organization was born. On the other hand, the Global Coalition attacks this segment under the pretext of being part of ISIS, which may generate cases of extremism in different directions. Such cases will increase with the fall of each victim and grow inside the refugee camps to be bore in the memories of children”.
During the last year, the European countries have witnessed attacks of a new kind, done by young Muslims of different nationalities, who have been labeled as “single wolves”. They attacked civilians in public squares, public transport stations and nightclubs under the slogan of supporting “the Islamic State” and fighting “crusaders in their own homes”. Thus, many researchers assumed that most of these people were attached emotionally to ISIS and not physically, which is referred to as a sign of ISIS’s success in transferring the oppressed Sunnis’ message to Europe.
“Massive” numbers of victims amidst the “war on terrorism”
Enab Baladi has got an updated version of the estimated numbers of casualties caused by the global coalition and Russia in Syria. Thus, apart from the statistics documented by some Syrian activists, figures taken from human rights organizations and institutions, which are of a legal nature specialized in documentation, are to be presented. These statistics are adopted by international human rights organizations, notably the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The network documented the deaths of 1,122 civilians, including 414 children and 133 women, by the global coalition forces in Syria, from September 23, 2014, to March 29, 2017. An average of more than one civilian is killed daily by the coalition’s fires within 30 months.
The organization also demonstrated the deaths of 4239 civilians, including 1,187 children and 342 women, by the Russian forces in Syria since its intervention on 30 September 2015 until 29 March 2017. Hence, averages of eight civilians were killed by the Russians every day within 18 months.
According to the numbers presented above, 5351 civilians, including 1,601 children and 475 women, were killed by the international coalition and the Russian forces in Syria, until 29 March 2017.
Given the figures of the non-governmental organization “Air Wars”, which specializes in monitoring coalition raids, the outcome of the coalition air strikes on Syria and Iraq from August 2014 to March 28, 2017 is summarized in numbers ranging from 7,581 to 10,962 non-combatant casualties killed in 1103 incidents separately registered. Thus, an average of about 11 civilians was killed by the coalition every day in both countries within 31 months.
Civilians were killed under the Russian bombings
Civilians were killed under the Global Coalition’s bombings
|8 civilians are killed daily in the last 18 months||A civilian is daily killed in the past 30 months
Notably, both parties, the Global Alliance and Russia, justified their military intervention in Syria under the pretext of “fighting against terrorism” and eliminating ISIS. However, the previous figures show that the armed intervention affected civilians mostly, including children and women.
The International humanitarian law is disrupted by the political actors in Syria
The international humanitarian law, which applies in situations of armed conflicts, is based on a series of written agreements and texts. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, on the protection of the civilian population in time of war and the protocols thereto, was approved by the UN Security Council, along with three other relevant conventions in 1993. Thus, these agreements became binding on the parties involved in armed conflicts which did not sign them.
The convention permits, under the articles 14 and 15, the establishment of two types of protection zones for civilians, namely: areas and sites for hospitalization, and safety, as well as neutral areas. The purpose of these zones is to protect the wounded, sick, and elderly; in addition to and children under 15, pregnant women and mothers of children under seven from war. Hence, these safe areas are designated to people who are not expected to participate in military action.
Respecting and protecting the recognized civilian hospitals and their personnel in addition to the land, sea and air transports used to transfer wounded, sick, disabled, and pregnant and child civilians are required by the convention.
Nonetheless, the Article 23 of the Convention demands that each party engaged in the conflict to ensure the free passage of all shipments of medicines, medical equipment and supplies of worship to civilians belonging to another contracting party, even if this party is taking part also in the conflict. Hence, the locomotives of food, clothing, or tonics for children and women are also to be granted passage.
The 2444 resolution of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Vienna 1965) lists four basic principles of the law of armed conflicts. Hence, in 1968, the General Assembly of the United Nations ratified three of these principles by adopting resolution 2444, two of which concern the protection of the civilian population.
The principles of the UN resolution state that “the attacks on the civilian population are prohibited. On the other hand, civilians should be recognized as non-participators in the armed disputes and must not be harmed. Thus, military aggressions against civilian and civic facilities are prohibited”.
The article 51 of the first protocol of 1977, which is annexed to the Geneva conventions, provides detailed provisions on the prohibition of the use of civilians as military targets. The second paragraph of the article states that acts of violence or threats aimed primarily at spreading terror among the civilians are prohibited. Nevertheless, the article 54 forbids the use of methods of warfare intended to threaten the survival of civilians. Besides, the first paragraph of the same article bans the act of starving civilians as a method of warfare.
Accordingly, the articles 14, 15 and 16 banish all acts of destruction against the civic facilities, which are essential to the survival of the civilians: such as architectural sites, installations containing dangerous forces like dams, bridges, and power stations. Notwithstanding, the nationally cultural and spiritual heritages comprising historical monuments, works of art or places of worship are also to be preserved according to the above mentioned articles.
Also, the first paragraph of article 17 of the first protocol requires the issuance of deportation orders in favor of civilians for reasons related to the armed conflict. Yet, the second paragraph interdicts the act of forcing civilians in any way to leave their lands due to the military dispute.
Thus, most of the political actors in Syria, namely: the global alliance, Russia, and the United States of America, adding to that the Syrian regime and its allies have failed to comply with the international humanitarian law, and specifically with the Fourth Geneva Convention and the protocols thereto. Nevertheless “ISIS”, “the Syrian Democratic Forces”, and the armed opposition factions have also breached such conventions.
The violation of the agreements is committed through targeting civilians directly by the coalition and bombarding vital and dangerous areas such as the bridges of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor as well as the Euphrates dam. Additionally, the Russians also attacked hospitals and schools. Thus, Syrian civilians were forced also to migrate during the battles. The different breaches of the global alliance and the Russian military forces, which are similar to those done by the Syrian regime and its ally: Iran, were documented by international and Syrian organizations, notably Human Rights Watch, Air Wars and the Syrian Human Rights Network, in addition to the United Nations periodic reports.
The attacks of the Coalition and the laws of war
Numerous news reports and human rights groups have accused the US-led international coalition against ISIS of violating the laws of war and killing civilians in Syria since 2014.
Although the United States has acknowledged its responsibility for some aggressions and announced the intention to run an investigation into the incidents, there is no record about an investigatory commission that was issued to inquire into the alleged violations. Thus, the victims and their families were not granted justice yet, as the United States made no announcement about a neutral and transparent investigation for this specific purpose.
The law of war regulates and restricts the use of force in armed conflicts. Thus, the international humanitarian law states that the groups taking part in the conflict must make a differentiation between the civic facilities and military targets.
The countries engaged in armed combats are required to investigate credible allegations of war crimes or serious violations, and must commit to prosecute those suspected of being responsible for these crimes because of criminal intentions or negligence. Hence, the United States should therefore establish a team to investigate these alleged violations and adhere to the principles of transparency during these investigations, in addition to making the findings of such inquiry public.
Trump’s previous statements, supporting indefinite detentions without trial, torturing the detainees and killing the families of “terrorists”, are not suggestive of a willingness to respect the laws of war, the international humanitarian law, or the lives of civilians in Syria.
The escalation of the unplanned or illegal attacks, which have led to the increase in death rates among civilians, might be motivated by Trump’s political plans and presidential campaign’s promises to extinguish ISIS in no time. This happened after he failed to realize several promises concerning the United States domestic affairs.
The report of the Syrian Human Rights Network stated that: “For the first time, the global coalition forces killed more civilians than the Russian forces in January 2017. The United States must take the necessary measures and precautions to ensure that no civilian casualties will occur under the laws of international war in the future”.
The Syrian media, journalists, and human rights groups have to document these attacks as accurately, neutrally and fully as possible. Also, they are required to communicate with the victims or their families and to preserve their testimonies as well as the harms they have suffered from, including the material damages.
They also have to resort to domestic and international human rights organizations to file lawsuits and demand the prosecution of the perpetrators of the crimes if proven. Hence, material and moral compensations must be provided to the injured in addition to treatments.
These measures should be taken against all the alleged perpetrators of crimes in Syria like the global coalition against ISIS, the Russian forces, or the Syrian armed groups etc.