Justice & Accountability

SNHR Participates in a Symposium on Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians in Syria and Ukraine

The SNHR’s participation in a symposium entitled ‘Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians as War Tactic in Syria and Ukraine’ – Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

June 18, 2022

SNHR Participates in a Symposium on Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians in Syria and Ukraine

Source: the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)

On Wednesday, June 15, 2022, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) participated in a symposium organized by the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies entitled: ‘Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians as War Tactic in Syria and Ukraine.’ The event, which featured lectures by Mrs. Oleksandra Matviichuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine), and Mr. Fadel Abdul Ghany, SNHR’s Executive Director, was moderated by Dr. Aicha Elbasri, Researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.
The symposium, which was held at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, was broadcast live on social media platforms.
The symposium focused on discussing the indiscriminate targeting of civilians by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally in the Syrian conflict and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In his address, Mr. Fadel Abdul Ghany provided detailed insight into the deliberate, indiscriminate targeting of civilians and the main perpetrators of violations in the Syrian conflict, as well as analyzing the means of accountability and the responsibility of the leaders of the Syrian and Russian regimes for the terrible violations that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
At the beginning of his presentation, Mr. Abdul Ghany summarized the basic concepts in international humanitarian law that establish the rules governing the nature of attacks during armed conflicts and wars. He explained that the most important rule governing the nature of attacks is the rule of distinction, which he described as “the essence and spirit of international humanitarian law, from which many rules and concepts branch off.” This rule has always imposed a distinction between the civilian population and combatants, as well as between civilian objects and military objectives.
Mr. Abdul Ghany also discussed the principle of proportionality which is violated by indiscriminate attacks that use weapons and combat methods that cannot accurately determine their target, such as the regime’s use of barrel bombs. He also spoke about the responsibility of military commanders to take all possible precautionary measures to avoid civilian casualties, especially when military targets are near civilian objects, emphasizing the importance of giving advance warning if attacks will affect civilians. Mr. Abdul Ghany stressed that any attack violating any of these principles is classified as an indiscriminate attack that violates international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. He also clarified that when indiscriminate attacks are widespread, they constitute crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute.
Moving on to the second topic in his address, Mr. Abdul Ghany talked about the main perpetrators of violations in the Syrian conflict, namely the Syrian regime and its Russian ally, noting that the vast majority of victims in Syria, between 70% and 75%, were killed through indiscriminate or deliberate aerial bombardment of neighborhoods and vital civilian facilities, with the Syrian regime and Russia being the only combatants with air forces.
He also indicated that the SNHR has documented the Syrian regime’s use of more than 161 Scud missiles and the dropping of 82,000 barrel bombs, stressing that every single incident of bombardment with a barrel bomb constitutes a war crime because it is of an indiscriminate nature. The Syrian regime has also used chemical weapons 212 times and cluster munitions 250 times.
Mr. Abdul Ghany presented visual analyses carried out by the SNHR of satellite images showing the scale of the indiscriminate attacks carried out by Russian warplanes and Syrian regime’s aircraft on the cities of Khan Sheikhoun, Saraqeb, and Ma’aret al Numan. He explained that the Syrian and Russian regimes, the only combatants in this conflict who possess state capabilities, have harnessed their immense resources, including their armies and air forces with all their tanks and aircraft, to launch indiscriminate attacks. For these reasons, the indiscriminate attacks that occurred were more brutal, firstly due to the Syrian and Russian regimes’ vast capabilities to carry out such massive brutality, and secondly because both enjoyed impunity.
Mr. Abdul Ghany explained that when Russia intervened militarily in Syria, it followed in the footsteps of the Syrian regime by completely escaping any punishment for its crimes in Syria and has not paid any price for its illegal intervention in the country. The West did not impose any sanctions on Russia following its military intervention in Syria, even after it bombed dozens of hospitals and vital facilities.
Mr. Abdul Ghany said, “We must remember that Russia paid the price for the occupation of Crimea in 2014, but it was a small price for obtaining Crimea. This encouraged it to intervene militarily in Syria in 2015, and it did not pay any significant price. This encouraged Putin to invade Ukraine. The majority of Russian research centers consider Russia’s military intervention in Syria a great success. The West left Syria to Russia, and I believe that Putin did not expect a strong reaction from the West towards the invasion of Ukraine. Russia has repeated in Ukraine what it did in Syria since 2015.”.

Moving to the last topic of his address, Mr. Abdul Ghany stressed the importance of accountability, pointing to the responsibility of the heads of the Syrian and Russian regimes for all the aforementioned violations, noting that these are both highly centralized regimes and it is not possible to carry out any huge military operations or to carry out such a massive number of attacks without the approval of the highest-ranking officials and leaders, such as Bashar al Assad and Vladimir Putin, and emphasizing that it is impossible that they did not know about these attacks and the resulting casualties and displacement. Far from these commanders preventing the commission of violations or punishing them, Mr. Abdul Ghany said, the evidence shows that the heads of the Syrian and Russian regimes have been directly involved in commissioning them, issuing the orders for them, and monitoring these operations in person at the military fronts, with their responsibility ranging from planning to direct implementation. He also pointed out that the responsibility of commanders does not remove responsibility from subordinates in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity, according to the statute of the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Abdul Ghany concluded his address by emphasizing that “sanctions and international jurisdiction have a limited impact on the accountability track, and we should not limit accountability to the judicial track alone. The concept of accountability is much broader than that, and the greatest accountability that the Syrian regime can face is a serious move to reviving the political process, which has been dead for ten years, and achieving a political transition towards a democratically elected system, meaning building on the sanctions file, the UN and international reports that condemned the violations the regime practiced and moving towards finding a political solution. This solution must include a national transitional justice path, including compensation for victims and accountability within the national judiciary, without which there will be no peace or societal stability in Syria.”
The full symposium, with addresses by the speakers and a question and answer session, can be viewed at the following link.