The Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) published its annual report of 2013 which describes the continuous violations and crimes committed by the Syrian regime since the outbreak of the revolution in March 2011. According to the report, a massacre was committed on an almost daily basis “killing more than 40.000 people and injuring 100.000 others at least. In its attacks, the regime used heavy weapons, small arms, cold weapons and even internationally prohibited weapons”.
The report stated that “The international community’s response towards these violations in previous years, which has not gone beyond a few fruitless statements, has been very disappointing and has undermined the efforts of human rights organisations in spreading the culture of human rights. In addition, it has created lack of faith in the International Human Rights System. This lack of faith was not only expressed on behalf of laypeople, but also on behalf of activists and organisations in the field”.
In its report, SHRC “calls all international organisations to increase their efforts in documenting the various violations committed against human rights in Syria. It also calls for exerting all means of pressure on the relevant governments in order to reach a solution which takes into account the International Human Rights System, which does not help the assailants escape from punishment and which establishes justice for the victims. These are the main conditions which need to be met in any national reconciliation process for it to succeed”.
Genocide: daily massacres amidst international silence
The regime’s systematic and daily crimes escalated in 2013 as a result of the international community’s silence which has encouraged the regime and its allies to commit more crimes using various weapons.
The regime’s massacres were not committed by the Syrian regime alone, as there have been many cases recorded which involve large participation of Lebanese forces affiliated to Hezbollah, the Abul Fadel al-Abbas Iraqi militias, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and African and Russian mercenaries.
Syrian human rights organisations have recorded the death of 41.650 Syrians in 2013. This number excludes members of the Syrian Armed Forces and its other affiliated forces because the Syrian authorities refuse to publish any civilian or military losses they incur. It also excludes victims who have died of injuries, diseases and undernutrition caused by the shelling and besiegement of many areas.
Arbitrary detention and forced disappearance
The issue of detention and kidnapping is among the most serious violations committed against the Syrian people and is considered more critical than other issues related to the revolution such as the number of casualties and refugees. This is due to the lack of accurate information about the victims which in turn has legal, political and even social implications. For example, the families of the victims do not have the necessary legal and emotional means that enable them to deal with their detained and kidnapped family members, unlike families of deceased victims who are able to find their bodies.
Despite the seriousness of the issue of forced disappearance in Syria, the numbers presented by Syrian and international human rights organisations are merely estimates and no accurate statistics can be provided due to the difficulties faced in counting the numbers of detainees and the released prisoners; a matter which is very difficult even for the parties who are carrying out the detentions!
Only one case of a group-release occurred in 2013 and an unspecified number of people and activists have been released while unknown numbers of arbitrary detention and forced disappearance continued.
The report documented the several incidents in which the Syrian government aired testimonies given by detainees, including women and children, in pre-recorded shows on its official and semi-official TV channels. It is believed that the broadcasted testimonies are recorded after subjecting detainees to torture and threatening them to harm their families, especially that these detainees were not arrested with a warrant and were not legally charged. They were even denied lawyers and the conditions of their detention remain unknown.
Besiegement: slow-motion genocide
Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, the Syrian regime has been using besiegement as a method of collective punishment against cities revolting against the regime; especially that this type of punishment has little influence on the international public opinion, is not very expensive and has a large impact on the residents of the besieged cities.
More than 25 neighbourhoods and cities, with a total population of 1 million people, were completely besieged in 2013 while other areas were partially besieged.
The besiegement of Rif Dimashq is considered one of the largest acts of slow-motion genocide committed since the Syrian revolution began, due to the large geographical area it covers and the large population of people there while the besiegement of Homs’s old neighbourhoods is one of the longest periods of collective punishment witnessed in Syria so far.
Violations committed against health and the health sector
In 2013, the Syrian authorities continued to target hospitals, health centres, field hospitals and medical staff in all the areas that are no longer its control. addition, many hospitals and health centres have been partially or completely used as military sites. There have been several incidents in which hospital roofs have been used as sniper positions or as meeting points for soldiers and military vehicles.
The report also documented in detail the significant deterioration of health in 2013 as a result of the direct targeting of the health sector, the continuous besiegement and the deliberate cutting off of services. In addition, many contagious and communicable diseases have reappeared in Syria such as: poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, typhoid, viral hepatitis and leishmaniasis.
Syrian refugees and the impact they leave on neighbouring countries
The issue of displacement and immigration escalated considerably as a result of the various violations committed by the Syrian authorities. The number of Syrian refugees is estimated to have reached no less than 5 million people.
In addition to the short term effects, the refugee issue will have a large impact for decades to come especially that more than 2 million Syrian children are left without an education.
The report also gave a description of the refugees’ condition in their host countries in 2013.
The use of internationally prohibited weapons
Alongside its heavy, light and cold weapons, the Syrian regime did not hesitate to use internationally prohibited weapons as well. Twenty seven attacks have been recorded in which chemical weapons were uses; in some of them, tens of missiles and rockets carrying chemical weapons were used such as in the attack on southern Ghouta on 21 August 2013. In addition, seven attacks in which phosphorous bombs were used have been recorded.
International reports in addition to reports retrieved by SHRC show that many international bodies documented the use of internationally prohibited weapons several times even before the Ghouta chemical attack. However, the lack of political will prevented any serious action from being made, even releasing an international resolution which clearly condemns the parties which have used these weapons.
Violations committed against freedom of the press
The year 2013 is considered a sad year for freedom of the press in Syria due to the large number of violations committed by the regime on the one hand, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) on the other. This year 57 reporters and citizen journalists, three of which were foreign, were killed while 43 journalists, 9 of which were foreign, were kidnapped.
Violations committed against houses of worship
Similarly to the situation in 2011 and 2012, the Syrian regime continued to target houses of worship such as mosques and churches in 2013.The Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) was able to document 319 incidents in which mosques were targeted and 18 incidents in which churches were targeted in 2013. Among these, 2 churches and one mosque were targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS).
Neither the Syrian government nor any of its official state-owned media have given any response or attention to the targeting of mosques. This excludes incidents involving the main mosques such as the targeting of the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo, the targeting of the minaret of Omari Mosque in Daraa and the destruction of Khalid ibn al-Walid’s tomb. The regime accused the opposition of committing these violations.
The targeting of historical and archaeological sites
Similarly to the previous two years, in 2013 the targeting of historical and archaeological sites in Syria continued. These sites were destroyed and burned as a result of the on-going arbitrary shelling by the regime. In addition, these sites have been used by the regime’s forces as military centres.
Furthermore, many gangs have emerged and have managed to loot a number of Syrian artefacts and excavate a number of archaeological sites. In 2013, many stolen Syrian artefacts were confiscated in neighbouring countries.