Civilians in Syria: barricades during the armed clashes between the conflicting parties - human rights violations and failure to prevent civilians the collateral damage in the armed conflict
The data collected by the Development Interaction Network, through its “Insan Center for researching, monitoring and documenting human rights violations” during the months of July, August and September 2014, shows that throughout the Syrian territories, the majority of military clashes took place in populated areas and/or along contact points.
This led to a large number of casualties and injuries among civilians; both at the contact lines, and in relatively further away areas that are exposed to shelling by both sides of the frontlines.
During the aforementioned three-month period, 425 clashes were reported. The death toll among non-participants in the military clashes rose to 79 casualties, all authentically documented cases by their names. This is a clear violation of Article 3, paragraph a, of the First and Fourth Geneva Conventions and Article 4, paragraph of the Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions.
Both sides of the conflict committed war crimes by launching attacks with the prior knowledge that they would cause civilian casualties and injuries (see Rome Statute, Article 8: War crimes, paragraph (a-1), paragraph (b-4 and 5)).
Through monitoring military clashes, it was observed that these clashes usually begin in populated areas and then they spread, causing the destruction of property, forced displacement of residents of the neighborhoods where clashes took place.
Clashes are temporary but recurrent, which leads to a deterioration of living conditions. The conflicting parties also use civilian buildings for military purposes, whereby they confiscate premises and place them under their control. In other words, civilian neighborhoods are taken hostage by the military fighters. Even though military clashes take place within civilian areas, no measures are taken to protect the civilians there, such as implementing an evacuation plan, or the setup of alternative shelters or safe passage. The fighters, at best, send the inhabitants warning or intimidating messages to evacuate their homes.
These practices are flagrant and repeated violations of the human rights of forcibly displaced civilians and can even qualify as war crimes, according to Article 8, paragraph a-4 of the Rome Statute, (causing widespread property destruction and seizure without justified military necessity and in violation of the law and in a frivolous manner).
It was observed that 37.3% of the total clashes, that were monitored, took place in densely populated areas and 33.5% at the frontlines (which usually overlap with residential districts); whereas only 16.4% of the clashes took place in military zones and the remaining 12.5% in unpopulated areas.
These data indicate that the different conflicting parties in Syria (namely: the regime and its supporting militias, the armed opposition and its affiliated armed groups and the extremist Islamist groups represented by ISIS, Al Nosrah and Islamic front); used civilians, both directly and indirectly, as human shields in zones of direct clashes; or as targets for intended casualties in areas exposed to airstrikes, missile attacks or artillery shelling.
According to the collected data, civilians represented 19% of injured cases and 10% of casualties.
Among the injured civilians, 9.2% were children, 15.1% women, 67.5% were men and 3.2% were other protected persons (journalists, humanitarian works, and medical teams).
Among the civilian casualties, 8.2% were children, 7% were women, 49.4% were men and 3.5% were from protected persons (journalists, humanitarian works, and medical teams).
It is worth noting that those clashes rarely resulted in significant military progress on the ground. Most of the control in the areas of clashes remained the same, which meant no end to the fighting and therefore no salvation for the civilians from being targeted of the continuous fighting, missiles and rockets.
This military status quo can also be illustrated by calculating the percentage of injuries and casualties among the armed elements of the conflict. In terms of injuries, the percentage is almost equal between the regime’s side of the conflict and the opposition side: 40% versus 40.6% respectively. On the other hand, the percentage distribution of casualties shows a larger difference, whereby 56.8% of casualties were among the regime forces and 32.5% from the opposition armed groups.
On another note, it should be pointed out that the clashes take place not only between the opposition and the regime, but also between ISIS and the regime forces, and between ISIS and other opposition groups.
Military clashes between the main sides of the conflict (the regime and its supporting militias, the armed opposition and its affiliated armed groups and the Islamists represented by ISIS) can also be monitored in terms of which side actually initiated the fighting. Figures show the following percentages:
- 51% of the clashes were initiated by opposition armed groups
- 35% of the clashes were initiated by regime forces
- 12.8% of the clashes were initiated by ISIS forces
The clashes initiated by ISIS targeted different opponents, as follows:
- 35.8% against the FSA
- 26.4% against the armed Kurdish forces
- 38.58% against the regime forces
To the fighting parties:
- Stop shelling civilian areas
- Stay away from civilian areas during the clashes
- Secure safe corridors for civilians in areas controlled by armed parties
- Secure life necessities, including food, water and hospitalization
- Provide safe shelter for civilians caught in the clashes
To the civil society:
- Create bodies to support and secure the needs of civilians, including food, water and hospitalization, wherever possible.
- Monitor and document violations committed by fighters from all sides of the conflict, and draft reports on such violations to be communicated to international non-governmental and/or governmental entities, and UN agencies involved in the monitoring and documentation of human rights violations.
- Assist in creating communication channels between the different sides of the conflict to shelter civilian neighborhoods.
To the international community:
- Initiate an international intervention to stop the civil war in Syria and prevent foreign intervention from adding more fuel to what is already a raging fire
- Stop arming fighters of all sides of the conflict
- Initiate military intervention against those committing the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria
- Activate the international mechanisms to hold parties and individuals accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and bring to justice the perpetrators from all sides of the conflict in Syria before the specialized courts or the International Criminal Court, to prevent impunity
- Provide food, water, medical aid and shelter to IDPs within Syria and to refugees outside Syria.