Ethnic cleansingRussian, Syrian Forces Continue a Campaign of War Crimes in Syria: Amnesty

Published 11 May 2020

In a new report, Amnesty International offers details of a continuing Syrian and Russian campaign to destroy hospitals, clinics, and schools in the Sunni-majority province of Idlib, in order to drive as many Sunnis as possible out of Syria. Since 2011, the Assad regime has conducted the largest ethnic cleansing campaign since the Second World War, aiming to change the ethnic composition of Syria. “Even by the standards of Syria’s calamitous nine-year crisis, the displacement and humanitarian emergency sparked by the latest onslaught on Idlib has been unprecedented,” said Amnesty.

The UN Security Council must not cut a vital aid lifeline for civilians in the context of war crimes and crimes against humanity in north-west Syria, Amnesty International urged today, as a resolution allowing humanitarian assistance to reach Idlib across Syria’s borders is set to expire in the coming weeks, says Amnesty International.

A new Amnesty International report, ‘Nowhere is safe for us’: Unlawful attacks and mass displacement in north-west Syria, details 18 cases – the majority in January and February 2020 – where Syrian and Russian government forces targeted medical facilities and schools in Idlib, western Aleppo and north-western Hama governorates.

As a result, before the 5 March ceasefire almost 1 million people in Idlib – many of whom had been displaced repeatedly – were forced to flee again and languished in dire conditions in recent months.

“Even by the standards of Syria’s calamitous nine-year crisis, the displacement and humanitarian emergency sparked by the latest onslaught on Idlib has been unprecedented. The UN Security Council must not cut the vital lifeline of cross-border humanitarian aid while thousands of lives hang in the balance,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.

“The latest offensive continued an abhorrent pattern of widespread and systematic attacks aimed at terrorizing the civilian population. Meanwhile, Russia has continued to provide invaluable military support – including by directly carrying out unlawful air strikes – despite evidence that it is facilitating the Syrian military’s commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Extensive Evidence Corroborates Witness Accounts
Amnesty International says that the organization interviewed 74 people for the report, including internally displaced people, teachers, doctors and humanitarian workers. Witness accounts were corroborated by videos and photographs as well as expert analysis of satellite imagery, reports by flight spotters on the ground and intercepted Russian and Syrian air force flight communications.

These audio recordings of transmissions from the cockpits of warplanes provide strong evidence of the Russian military’s involvement in at least one unlawful attack that put a hospital out of service.

Attacks on Hospitals
According to the Idlib Health Directorate, Syrian or Russian attacks damaged or destroyed 10 medical facilities in Idlib and Aleppo between December 2019 and February 2020, killing nine medical and other staff. Dozens of other medical facilities had to close altogether.

Amnesty International documented attacks resulting in the closure of five hospitals in areas under armed opposition group control.