On International Human Rights Day: Millions of Syrians robbed of “rights” and 593 thousand killed in a decade
Since the Syrian Revolution broke out almost a decade ago in March 2011, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has been tirelessly monitoring and documenting the daily violations committed in perhaps one of the most complex conflict in contemporary history, as we all have seen this tragic conflict rapidly turn into a humanitarian disaster of epic proportion, and during which Syria has witnessed unprecedented violations as the people of Syria seemed determined to march on the road to freedom, dignity, equality and democracy. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is proud to have become over the years the main and most-trusted source of information on Syria and the Syrian conflict for all Arab and international media organizations, civil and social institutions and governmental and non-governmental organizations. Through a large network of selfless and brave activists on the ground across the entire Syrian geography and spheres of influence, SOHR has been able to follow and meticulously document all the violations as they happened, from extrajudicial killings and arrests, torture and enforced disappearances to massacres, war crimes, mass displacement, demographic change, human trafficking and so on.
As the world celebrates International Human Rights Day on this special 10th December 2020, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) would like to highlight the plight of the children and women of Syria, map out the most prominent events of the last 12 months, and capture in numbers the tragedy of the Syrian conflict which has impacted the lives of so many millions of innocent Syrians.
Syria’s Children: A bitter present and uncertain future!
As the Syrian crisis, with its ongoing violent and bloody fighting, mass displacement and crippling social and economic consequences, the children of Syria have emerged as its biggest losers; and they are the real and true victims of this tragic conflict, for they are the ones who live a bitter present and potentially face an uncertain and bleak future. Millions of Syrian children, whether in Syria, their host countries or in refugee camps, have been robbed of normal childhood, and are deprived of their most basic rights to a peaceful and normal live, and education. The conflict has left an indelible and irreparable marks on their social and psychological beings, a sad human tragedy that would require many years to put right.
SOHR is really concerned about the unabating suffering and plight of the children of Syria, with the notable phenomena of destitution and lack of education opportunities. It is well known now that Syria’s education sector has suffered the most as a result of the ongoing conflict, with the entire education infrastructures in tatters, as schools have systematically targeted and put out of service. Mass displacement of civilians has pushed hundreds of thousands out of their areas and therefore children out of their schools; and access to education elsewhere is virtually impossible to come by, as we have seen in Idlib province, where thousands of displaced children cannot access education in their new host areas or special camps. Lack of humanitarian aid, resources, infrastructure and qualified teachers does not bode well. Urgent help is desperately needed now to avert another tragedy: the loss of a generation of desperate children.
Syrian women: shouldering an extra burden
The ongoing violence and hostilities in Syria had touched the lives of Syrian women. Military operations, terrorism, incursions into cities, and house raids by regime forces and loyalist militias, and the desire to pressure young men to surrender to the regime, have all made women prone to detention, abduction, and arrest. These conditions affect Syrian women psychologically and socially. The participation of women in protests against the worsening living conditions in the country, as well as their service in some security forces, and Women’s Protection Units of the SDF has increased the likelihood of women experiencing violence and combat actions.
The ongoing war has literally impoverished Syrian women at unprecedented rates. SOHR statistics have shown that more than 93% of Syrians and Syrian women are living in poverty, 65% of whom living in extreme and abject poverty, while poverty rate among the widows and wives of missing persons is approximately 90%. This is due to the increase in civilian displacement, especially in the “de-escalation zone”, the free fall of the Syrian pound against the dollar, the weakness of aid organizations, and security chaos that have affected the economic situation of women in general. The feminization of poverty in Syria has emerged because women are forced to leave their areas due to military operation, and high commodity prices and the low or no income for some families. The phenomenon of begging is also widespread, as it has become part of daily life in northern Syria in particular. SOHR monitored 2,300 cases of women and children begging in March 2020 alone in the capital, Damascus.
The difficult conditions Syrian women and their families live in, and the tribal beliefs and rituals in some parts of Syria, which are male-dominated, paternalistic and authoritarian, view women as inferior, dependant minors and need looking after. Such belief-systems and culture have led some families to marry their girls off at a very young age which also result in girls leaving education and becoming illiterate. SOHR statistics show that one in three marriages of Syrian refugees in Jordan includes a girl under the age of 18. In addition, females are subject to harassment, trafficking, exploitation, sexual abuse, and forced disappearance. By contrast, the involvement of young people in warfare, the death and arrest of many more, and migration of hundreds of thousands of young Syrians to seek refuge have led an entire generation of young men and women to becoming somewhat reluctant to marry and start a family. Women, particularly young women, are struggling to find eligible young men and the rate of celibacy and spinsterhood has therefore increased. The marriage age for women increased from 22 years to 33 years after 2011. This social malaise of war has torn the fabric of Syrian society and made women shoulder extra burdens.
Syria’s Enforced disappearance
Over the years SOHR has never lost sight of highlighting the important issue of enforced disappearances across Syria, as regime prisons are teaming with thousands of detainees and victims of enforced disappearance. Furthermore, there are many thousands of “missing” people and victims of enforced disappearance at the hands of the “Islamic State” organization. Tragically, tens of thousands of those people face an unknown fate, including Khalil Maatouk, Abdel Aziz Al-Khair, Faten Rajab, Hussein Esau, tens of intellectuals, defenders of political freedom, opinion and democracy, Father Paulo Doulolio and Bishop Youhana Ibrahim and Bishop Paul Yazigi, Abdullah al-Khalil, a British journalist, Sky News journalists and other journalists, as well hundreds of kidnapped people from the Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) and Afrin regions and Deir al-Zour. The same goes for the hundreds of detainees in the prisons of HTS, Ankara-backed factions and Syrian Democratic Forces SDF. On this special day, SOHR urges the international community to remember those victims and to work tirelessly to bring them back to their families and loved ones.
Syria over the past 12 months
Since the onset of the Turkish military operation in northern Syria on October 9 2019, Turkish forces and allied factions have provided intensive air and ground cover in a total area of 4,875 square kilometres (9.2% of the total area previously controlled by the SDF) At the same time, regime forces, under a Russian-brokered agreement between SDF and Regime, entered an area of 18,821 km² (35.6% of the total area previously under SDF control). As a result, SDF now controls only 15.7% of Syrian territory, having lost control of 23,641 km² out of an area of 52,916 km² (28.6% of the total territory of Syria).
According to the new map of influence, the Syrian regime and allied militias now control 116388٫8 km² or 62.9% of Syria’s total territory, while the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control 29220 km², which equates to 15٫70%. Additionally, Turkey and proxy factions have consolidated their territorial gains in “Euphrates Shield,” “Olive Branch,” and “Peace Spring” areas which comprise 4.9% (9050 km²) of the total territory of Syria. However, territory jointly shared by regime forces and SDF makes up just 10.2% (18821 km²). Islamic factions and fighters control 2.6% (4874٫2 km²), and US and western-backed factions control 1.9% (3٫543 km²), while ISIS is left with just 1.8% (3٫283 km²).
Enduring a series of humanitarian tragedies and disasters for ten long years, the people of Syria had to suffer another humanitarian disaster as a result of the Turkish “Peace Spring” military operation, where more than 300,000 civilians have been displaced from their homes, towns and villages in Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain, Derbasiya, Ain al-Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and other areas east of the Euphrates at the border with Turkey. This region had already been struggling with the high number of displaced people and their appalling living conditions.
The Turkish intervention did not only the displace hundreds of thousands of helpless people, but also claimed the lives of many civilians and non-civilians. The number of civilians killed since the beginning of the Turkish military operation has reached 146, including 7 women and 4 children; while the number of deaths among the SDF, its military councils and internal security forces as a result of air and ground strikes and clashes with Turkish forces and allied factions has exceeded 510. In addition, 28 regime soldiers have been killed during these battles. The number of deaths among Turkish-backed Syrian factions and pro-Turkish cells during targeting and clashes with SDF has reached 279, including 21 pro-Ankara cells killed in clashes with SDF, while Turkey has lost 10 soldiers.
Regime escalates and civilians fall victims
Since the beginning of the year, namely since February 2020, the Syrian regime, backed up by Russia, have been stepping up military operations in Idlib and Aleppo within the so-called “Putin-Erdogan” de-escalation zone. Throughout that period, Syrian civilians were the most affected by the escalation, as these military operations resulted in mass displacement of civilians who feared to be the target of those military operations. Since February, SOHR documented the displacement of one million and 150 thousand civilians from their areas in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama.
This mass displacement is part of a plan that the Syrian regime, supported by Russian forces, is trying to implement in various areas under its control or wishes to control, forcing civilians to flee as it seeks more territorial gains, without any regard to the humanitarian implications of escalating air and ground bombardments. The Syrian regime managed to regain control of more than 279 cities, town and villages in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo.
Furthermore, during the previous 10 months more than 50 hospitals and medical facilities were put out of service as a result of the military operations and heavy bombardment by Russian forces.
Syria and Covid-19
The scourge of war, insecurity, displacement, violations and the ensuing terrible economic and living conditions have plagued the Syrian people for years, further emphasized by the coronavirus pandemic which has doubled the burden of Syrians on various levels, particularly with the regime’s secrecy policy, and its denial of any casualties at the outset of the pandemic. According to reliable medical sources, the numbers of Covid-19 cases within regime-held areas have exceeded thousands. However, regime’s medical authorities remain tight-lipped about providing realistic and actual figures and statistics.
In general, a number of factors have triggered the spread of Covid-19 in Syria and in the regime-held areas in particular, including: the presence of foreign nationals such as Iraqi, Iranian, Russian, Afghan and other nationalities. for example, dozens have been infected, as a result of dealing with Iranians and Iraqis visiting the holy sites in Syria. The repercussions of the Syrian war also cast a shadow over the situation, where many of the Syrian areas recovered by the Syrian regime lack infrastructure, particularly medical and health institutions, due to the military operations of the regime and its allies, such as Damascus countryside, especially eastern Ghouta, and the eastern part of Aleppo city. Also, the near-collapse of the healthcare system is one of the most prominent of these factors, where Syria in general and regime-held areas are witnessing a decrease in the efficiency of hospitals and medical centres and shortage of medicines, devices and medical supplies.
In SDF-held areas, medical sources have reported serious Covid-19 outbreaks, amid the inability of the healthcare authorities to absorb large numbers and conduct tests for suspected cases. The official numbers of the health authority recorded to date 3387 infections, 104 deaths, while recovered cases reached 658. However, other sources have confirmed that the number of cases within the SDF-held areas has exceeded 12,500 confirmed cases, of which 510 died (figures obtained in late October, 2020).
As for the HTS and factions held areas, health authorities have registered 4,082 cases, including doctors and medical staff, since July 9 until recently, while 1,630 cases have recovered.
The Syrian tragedy in numbers: 593,000 people killed, millions of Syrians displaced and injured
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has documented the deaths of 387,118 people across Syria since the start of the Syrian Revolution on March 15, 2011 to date, December 9, 2020. The human causalities are distributed as follows:
- Civilians: 116,911 people, of whom 80,958 were men, 22,149 children under the age of eighteen, and 13,804 females over the age of eighteen.
- Syrian fighters of rebel and Islamic factions and other various factions, movements, and organizations: 54,668.
- Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) and Kurdish units: 12,811.
- Regime army defectors: 2,630.
- Regime forces: 68,049.
- Regime-backed National Defence Forces (NDF): 52,391.
- Lebanese Hezbollah: 1,703.
- Pro-regime non-Syrian militiamen of the Shiite community: 8,462, of whom, 264 were Russian soldiers and mercenaries.
- Turkish soldiers: 202.
- Jihadists of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham (formerly Jabhat Al-Nusra) and other various jihadi organizations: 27,772.
- ISIS fighters: 40,161.
- SDF non-Syrian fighters: 930.
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was not able to document the number of deaths among the International Coalition Forces due to the extreme secrecy.
- Unidentified people whose deaths were documented by pictures and videos: 428; in addition to 3,691 persons whose names were documented by SOHR in 2017.
These statistics, documented by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, do not include the following:
- Nearly 88,000 civilians killed under torture in the detention centres and prisons of Bashar al-Assad’s regime (SOHR obtained information about their death during the period of their detention).
- More than 3,200 fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party killed while fighting on SDF’s side.
- Over 3,200 abductees, civilians and fighters, in ISIS prisons, whose fate has yet to be known.
- More than 4,100 regime prisoners, soldiers and loyalists who have gone missing.
- Over 1,800 persons kidnapped by rebel and Islamic factions, Islamic battalions, “Islamic State” organization and Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham (formerly Jabhat Al-Nusra) on charges of “loyalty to the regime”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimates that the real and actual number of people killed since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution to be in the region of 105,000 persons, well above the numbers that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has managed to methodically document, simply due to the extreme secrecy surrounding the number of casualties imposed by all the warring parties. Furthermore, SOHR has been unable to document many civilian deaths due to the difficulty of reaching some remote areas in Syria.
Additionally, more than 2.1 million Syrian civilians have sustained various injuries and permanent disabilities due to the ongoing military operations, shelling, bombardment and explosions. About 13 million other civilians, including hundreds of thousands of children and women, have been displaced. While vital infrastructure, hospitals, schools, and private and public property have been substantially damaged or destroyed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has also meticulously documented, in spreadsheets, the death toll in the Syrian conflict according to the ‘perpetrator’ category. A breakdown of total number of civilian deaths of 116,911 by the ‘perpetrator’ category is as follows:
- Civilians killed by Al-Assad regime forces and Syrian and non-Syrian loyalist militiamen: 45,845 civilians, of whom 28,313 were men, 10,958 children under the age of eighteen and 6,480 females over the age of eighteen.
- Bashar al-Assad’s regime warplanes and helicopter: 26,407 civilians, of whom 16,653 were men, 5,965 children under the age of eighteen and 3,789 females over the age of eighteen.
- Death toll in regime detention centres and prisons: 16,229 civilians, of whom 16,040 were young and old men, 125 children under the age of eighteen, and 64 females over the age of eighteen.
Death toll by foreign powers, intervening in Syria under the pretext of helping the Syrian people to achieve justice get rid of oppression, is as follows:
- Russian missiles and airstrikes: 8,640 civilians, of who 5,233 were old and young men, 2,086 children under the age of eighteen and 1,321 females over the age of eighteen.
- International Coalition bombardment: 3,846 civilians, of whom 2,161 were men, 973 children under the age of eighteen and 712 females over the age of eighteen.
- Attacks by Turkish forces and warplanes: 1,009 civilians, of whom 686 are old and young men, 195 children under the age of eighteen and 128 females over the age of eighteen.
- Turkish Jandarma (Border Guard Forces): 453 civilians, of whom 330 were young and old men, 81 children under the age of eighteen and 42 females over the age of eighteen.
- Israel’s ground and air attacks: 12 civilians, of whom 6 were men, three children and three women.
Anti-regime groups and formations
Deaths caused by various ‘anti-regime’ formations and groups such as ISIS, opposition factions, Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), and other groups in Syria:
- Opposition factions: 8,096 civilians, of whom 6,106 were men, 1,230 children under the age of eighteen and 760 females over the age of eighteen.
- ISIS: 6,274 civilians, of whom 5,430 were men, 533 children under the age of eighteen and 411 females over the age of eighteen.
On this special day, we, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), renew our appeal to the UN and international community to intervene and find a lasting political solution to the Syrian crisis. We would like to see a genuine, maximum pressure put on all the parties involved in the Syrian conflict to stop all hostilities and violence; and we urge all humanitarian organisations, governmental or non-governmental, to double their efforts and help to the people of Syria: your action now will save lives.