Across the world Human Rights Day is celebrated on 10 December every year. The date was chosen to honour the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on 10 December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights. It is believed that the Syrian delegation, of which Abdulrahman Al Kayali was a member, have helped Dr.Charles Malik in drafting the UDHR.
While the world is celebrating this day, violence, radicalism, and extremism have escalated across the world, including developed countries. It is believed that this is the result of the extremism inflicted by radical Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram.
It is no secret that the human rights are under pressure and attack worldwide and there has been a significant decline of human rights in the recent years. The devastating civil wars that ravaging the Middle east and North Africa, which are fed by goverments and groups that seek to control people’s will and fate according to their own economic and sectional interests, while most people in those countries are living below the poverty line and the human dignity is being violated every day and everywhere in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Libya.
ISIS seized large swathes of the country right under the nose of a sectarian government with its own sectarian campaign to consolidate power, betraying promises to his political partners to share it around. This had serious consequences from what is known as ‘Sunnigrievances’ to the recent decline in Iraq’s stability due to the tension between the central government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) after independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan. The referendum had serious repercussions and political and security implications which led to military operations and violent clashes. According to reports by KRG, more than600 civilians were deliberately killed in the disputed areas in a gross violation of the right to live. In addition, imposing a blockade and a no-fly zone on Kurdistan region. Regional powers, including Iranand Turkey played a significant role in escalating the tension and participated in the blockade on Kurdistan region. Moreover, militia groups affiliated with Iranian Revolutionary Guard participated directly in the attack aimed at the Kurdistan region using the weapons that the coalition supplied the Iraqi forces with to fight ISIS and liberate towns and cities from ISIS. According to international reports, the sectarian militia, The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), have committed serious violation in the areas that it captured from ISIS and the areas that were under the KRG rule before the referendum.
The victims of the serious human rights violations are still suffering from the consequences while the perpetrators have not been brought to justice yet. And while the international community is focused on fighting terrorism, there is a lack of effort in addressing the root of terrorism and its consequences. The children born in ISIS controlled areas, estimated to be over 2000 child, without parents, such as the case of the children of the Yazid women who were enslaved by ISIS in a horrendouscrime that shocked the international community in the third millennium of history, development and civilization!
Even though the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic have classified the enslaved Yazidi women and girls by ISIS as genocide, it is still largely unaddressed, and a subject of political clashes controlled by the federal government of Iraq.
While ISIS has been defeated in its majority of its stronghold, the military operations against ISIS have resulted in internal displacement of more than half a million fleeing to KRG territories where most of them lives in camps. This displacement has caused thousands of children to lose their rights to education and health care and thousand to lose their income and livelihood which resulted in sever poverty and violations of human dignity.
Syrian people are living through seven years of the disastrous and deadliest conflict the 21st century has witnessed afterpeaceful protests erupted in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime who committed war crimes and serious human rights violations. This violent atrocitycommitted by the government against its own people have ledthe Syrian opposition groups across Syria to commit a growing number of serious abuses which, even though not comparable to the atrocities committed by the regime, could be potential war crimes. This conflict has ravaged Syrian infrastructure and caused losses to its economy of billions of dollars, according to some international reports, however the destruction runs deeper than the infrastructure damage to the destruction of the social fabric and the serious deterioration of the values of citizenship, justice and equality and at the same time the spread of revenge and hatred culture.
Because of thislong-lastingconflict, militant and terrorist organizationsemerged, which the Syrian regime actively helped creating, while the Syrian opposition was trapped insupporting it to benefit from those forces to fight the Syrian regime, which was one of the biggest mistakes of the Syrian opposition that led to the accusations of itsinvolvement in supporting terrorism and war crimes.
Since the emergence of the terrorist organisation, ISIS, in Syria and all the atrocities that it committed against Syrian people, the international community, after the terror of ISIS struckEurope and America and the serious consequences on the International Peace and Security, has moved to fight against the terror of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. ISIS was recently defeated in most of its stronghold areas. Syrian forces, either Syrian regime forces, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces have recaptured cities and towns that ISIS controlled once. However, the war against ISIS has caused similar destruction to that the Syrian regime caused in other cities, not to mention the casualties and the impact on the social structure.
As the violence escalated and the intervention by countries that have interest in Syria increased, such as Turkey, Iran and Russia, the country lost its unity and coexistence between multiple ethnicities, different components of Syrian society became isolated and lost the spirit of solidarity, prevalence of sectarianismand the spread of hate speech in media, governmental or otherwise.
The international community proceeded to help the Syrian people in facing the ongoing conflict, nations from all over the globe did not let down the Syrian people in helping them during their calamity, the value of Syrian rights was established in forming civil society organisations, which amounted to thousands of civil society organizations after decades of the Syrian regime oppressing civil liberties, right to assemble and the right to establish civil organizations that have provided services extensively during the past years.
However, political loyalties, agendas and political money played a major negative role in the decline of the capacity of these organizations to exercise their influence due to the lack of effective control, corruption and loyalties as mentioned above. Therefore, the civil societies in Syria became a tributary of political organizations supporting either the Syrian regime or Syrian opposition.
The political agendas have actively sought for the civil societies to make these mistakes because of the capacity and the influence of these organisations and its role in supporting Syrian people. Therefore, the political lobby payed the political money to some political parties to influence the international organizations to pass their agendas for the benefit of particular parties, resulting in clear violations of freedoms of expression, opinion and assembly and thereby preventing independent organizations from effective participation in decision-making in Syria and defend the vulnerable Syrians.
As the Syrian conflict reached these point, the international community began to back away from supporting Syrian people in their cause in fighting for their freedom and their struggle against this brutal regime. The international community realized the importance to stop the conflict and start the process of building the Syrian peacein accordance with United Nations resolutions “Resolution 2254”. To date, and after eight rounds of peace talk moderated by the UN, nothing has been achieved other than more procrastination and complexity in absence of a clear vision for a solution, whereas the Syrian regime continues to dismiss these talk as irrelevant and regime’s allies, Russia and Iran, increasing their support in the absence of a real alternative in the weak and divided opposition. The UN envoy has not been able yet to bring together the two parties into direct peace talk to start clear and serious negotiations. This means that building the peace processes in Syrian has not begun yet and it is still a mere organisational process for those who will participate in these talks, in spite of the items proposed by the special envoy, Mr de Mistura, which are still subject to disagreement,without significant outputs due to the abovementioned reasons.
Human rights during the conflict in Syria:
Violation of the right to life:
Violations of the right to life reached serious levels in several stages and regions which raised to the level of genocide committed by the Syrian regime forces, the Syrian opposition forces and ISIS. Despite international reports that at least 450,000 Syrians have been killed, there are no accurate statistics on the number of people killed in Syria. The Fraternity Foundations for Human Right (FFHR)has documented the death of at least 7,000 Syrian civilians, mostly children and women, by different parties in the conflict and the Global Coalition against ISIS and Al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda in Syria).
While the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to investigate the chemical attacks in Syria have confirmed that the Assad regime have used the chemical weapon against civilians in territories controlled by Syrian opposition, particularly using chemical weapon sarin in the horrific April 4, 2017 attack in Khan Shaykhun that killed more than 94 people, including 27 children and 27 women, and over 200 experienced suffocation. The commission also confirmed that the chemical weapons were used in Syria 33 times, causing the death of hundreds in different areas in Syria and an impact that will last for generations because of the effect on human life in Syria.
Despite all these reports on these crimes and serious violations of Syrians’ right to life, the international community failed to bring justice to the Syrian victims because of the Russian opposition that undermined the effort of the international community by using veto in the Security Council ten times, most recently on November 16, 2017, which prevented the extension of the international investigation into uses of chemical weapons use in Syria.
While the terrorist organisation, ISIS, is committing large-scale crimes against the right to life in Syria, ISIS’s leaders are still free despite the defeats that ISIS has suffered lately. For example, a crime such as Kobani massacre on 25 June 2015 that resulted, according to our report issued at that time, in 239 civilians dead including 33 children and 79 women and injured at least 289 including 78 children and 81 women, such crime can not go without justice for the victims.
Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition forces continue to commit serious violations of the human right to life in Syria as it did in the bombing of the neighborhood of Sheikh Maksoud, which is predominantly Kurdish are in Aleppo between February and September 2016, which left, according to our report in this context, killed 143 civilians, including 42 children and 29 women and at least 1,000 civilians were injured, including 850 civilians, including 266 children and 214 women with banned weapons.
Human rights violations against women in Syria:
Even though Syrian women have been subject to serious violations in Syria, their cause has remained marginalized by the international community.There has been no extensive and formal investigation into the crimes committed against women, especially sexual violence against women in Syria and in refugee camps in neighboring countries. According to our report, issued on 25 November 2016, on violence against women through monitoring and documenting four specific types of human right violation against women in Syria. These violations are sexual violence, domestic violence, abduction and enforced disappearance, enslavement, rape and sexual enslavement, human trafficking. In the view of FFHR, the Syrian women have suffered, to an unimaginable degree in the modern time, at the hand of terrorist and radical organizations where the women have been stoned in public squares, raped in kidnaping prisons, sold in slaves’ market and were systematically targeted in the Syrian conflict under several names including financing the organizations, as it was done by ISIS, other used women to attract fighters and reward them as war booty. The Syrian regime was not outside this systematic crime against women where his prisonsare filled with women and his Shabihaat checkpoint would leave women pass through without committing some kind of violations against them, ranging from harassing to kidnapping and rape.
Massacres and mass murders have not received enough attention from the international community despite the certainty that many of them have been committed in various areas controlled by different parties involved in the conflict and in particular those committed by the Syrian regime in his prisons and those committed by ISIS in Mnabaj where FFHR have documented the presence of at least three mass graves of those whom were kidnapped by ISIS and were buried in the garden of a private university called Etihad Universitynearby the city of Mnabaj. FFHR have documented the victims, which amounted to 53, of one of these mass grave whom were kidnapped by ISIS, whereas most of these mass graves are unknown and are feared to be at leas six mass graves in Mnabaj.
The torture is continued in the prisons and detention centers of the various parties involved in the conflict, but the Syrian regime had the largest share of crimes in this area. These crimes received positive international reactions, especially by the German judiciary, because of the efforts of European and Syrian organizations which established the foundation to bring the perpetrators before German judiciary for justice. The FFHR documented, in its report on June 26, 2016, the death of at least 30 detainees under torture in prison of the Syrian regime as well as more than 195 cases of torture by various parties involved in the conflict such as the opposition forces and Kurdish security forces of the self-government.
Enforced disappearance and abduction:
Dozens of Syrian activists are still subject to enforced disappearance by various parties involved in the conflict in Syria. Particularly, Syrian regime, the opposition forces and the forces of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria continued to kidnap weather for financial extorsion or those driven by ethnically or religiously motivations such as those committed by radical and terrorist groups like ISIS. FFHR have documented more than 175 kidnapping case committed by ISIS in 2015 against civilian Kurdish mostly labours and people travelling to seek jobs and living opportunities.
Based on the outcome of the Syrian conflict and the emergence of ISIS in Syrian and Iraq and the constant and continued danger of radical Islam represented different groups such as Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and other Islamic groups in addition to the emergence of similar groups such as the sectarian Popular Mobilization Forces, Lebanese Hezbollah and other Islamic fundamentalist movements affiliated with Sunni and Shia doctrine in both countries. FFHR recommends the following:
- While we appreciate the response and the role played by the German and European courts in hearing war crimes and other cases before them, we appeal and urge to the European governments to provide greater sponsorship and provide more opportunity for the prosecution of the rest of the parties involved in the conflict in Syria. We therefore appeal to the international community to initiate criminal cases on:
- Kobani massacre on 25 June 2015 which was committed by ISIS
- The ethnic cleansing carried out by the Syrian opposition against the Kurdish component in rural area of
- War crimes committed by the Syrian opposition forces in Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood in Aleppo
- The crimes committed by the Syrian regime in supporting and financing terrorism through its cooperation and facilitating trade with ISIS
- The crime of sexual enslavement committed against women in Raqqal Deir al Xour and Mnabaj
- Peace in Syria must pass through human rights first:
FFHR condemn the participation of most of those who committed war crimes, both on the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition, in the peace talk. Therefore, we recommend that any military leader be banned from participating the peace talk and be brought to justice if proven guilty in committing those war crimes.
International support for Syrian and international human rights organizations has declined due to the strategies of the international community. However, ignoring the fact that human rights are the foundation for peace building, which human rights organizations can play a major role in building and establishing in accordance with the rules and norms of international human rights.
- Justice for the victims of the conflict in Syria and the victims of the war against ISIS:
FFHR appreciates formation of a commission for inquiry into crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq and we stress on the importance of not separating course of the investigation in Syria and Iraq because those crimes were committed in both countries, particularly the crime of sexual enslavement of women, and we ensure that we will support all the mechanisms of the commission in its investigation into the serious human rights violations in Syria.
- FFHR hopes that 2018 will be Syrian human rights year and we appeal to all local and international human right organizations to cooperate and unite to defend the values of justice, freedom and dignity which are guaranteed by the International Bill of Human Rights.
Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights-Birati/FFHR
To read all our report, please click here Birati/FFHR reports