Syria

Turkey orchestrating destruction, demographic change in northern Syria – new report

July 2020

Turkey’s occupation of Afrin in northwestern Syria is causing permanent changes to the demographic character of the area, according to a new report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and YASA e.V. – Kurdish Centre for Studies & Legal Consultancy.

The report, entitled Cultivating Chaos: Afrin after Operation Olive Branch, is based on more than 120 interviews conducted with individuals from Afrin since the area fell under Turkish control over two years ago, documenting violations including killings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, pillage, and attacks on livelihoods.

Turkey’s military advance into the area, code-named Operation Olive Branch, culminated in the capture of Afrin city on 18 March 2018 and caused the mass displacement of its Kurdish-majority population.

The invasion was spearheaded by Turkish armed forces, bolstered by tens of thousands of Arab and Turkmen fighters organized under the umbrella of the Syrian National Army (SNA). Despite their name, the factions take direct orders from Turkey, which also trains them and pays their salaries, according to the report.

Since the invasion, Turkey has handed direct control of Afrin’s districts and villages to the factions. The consequences for the local population have been disastrous.

‘Civilians who remain in occupied Afrin live in constant fear of the factions,’ says Miriam Puttick, Head of Middle East and North Africa Programmes at Ceasefire. ‘They know that they can be accused of collaboration with Kurdish parties, detained, tortured, or even killed at any time.’

The presence of the factions is continuing to drive displacement and acts as a barrier to the return of Afrin’s Kurdish-majority population, the report finds. Meanwhile, thousands of families from other parts of Syria have been resettled into empty houses belonging to local residents.

These processes, far from being a secondary effect of the military operation, appear to have been one of its central goals, the report argues.

‘The existence of the Kurds in Afrin is in serious danger,’ says Jian Badrakhan, Legal Consultant at YASA. ‘From over 95% at the Turkish occupation, they are estimated to be under 40% now.’

Turkish authorities appear to be permanently cementing these changes through the introduction of a new identification card system that obscures civil registry data pertaining to family origins, making it impossible to distinguish between local residents, internally displaced persons and refugees. These developments are jeopardizing the possibility of future processes of return and reconciliation in the area.

Alongside these demographic changes, Turkish forces and allied fighters have also carried out widespread attacks on the region’s religious and cultural landscape. These have included numerous instances of damage or destruction of Kurdish cultural and religious symbols, Alevi and Yazidi shrines, and historical and archaeological sites.

‘Under Turkish occupation, Afrin’s history and culture is being erased,’ adds Badrakhan. ‘The very peaceful coexistence of different religious groups in Afrin is almost destroyed.’

Note for editors:

Cultivating Chaos: Afrin after Operation Olive Branch is published by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and YASA e.V. – Kurdish Centre for Studies & Legal Consultancy on 28 July 2020. This report was written on the basis of 120 interviews carried out with individuals from Afrin between November 2018 and February 2020, which were documented using the Ceasefire-MENA online reporting tool.

For further information or to arrange interviews, e-mail: contact@ceasefire.org

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Study finds displacement, economic hardship drive domestic abuse among Syrian refugees in Iraq   

March 2019

PDF: Combating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Refugee Crises: Lessons from working with Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq: ENGLISH, ARABIC, KURDISH

A two-year programme on sexual and gender-based violence among Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq found that displacement and economic hardship have led to an increase in physical and emotional abuse, with one focus group of women reporting that as many as half of husbands yelled at and hit their wives.

The programme, a joint project run by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Asuda, an Iraqi women’s rights group, surveyed Syrian refugees in the governorates of Erbil, Dohuk and Suleymania in Iraqi Kurdistan. The lessons learned from this study are highlighted in Ceasefire’s report: “Combating sexual and gender-based violence in refugee crises: Lessons from working in with Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”.  

‘This report clearly highlights the psychological impact forceable displacement, exile and economic hardship has on vulnerable refugee populations,’ said Ceasefire’s Head of Middle East/North Africa Programmes, Miriam Puttick. ‘The most vulnerable sections of the refugee community – women and children – bear the brunt of this trauma.’

Almost half of the participants reported ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ mental health. Both male and female Syrian refugees said stresses related to displacement, especially financial stress and the inability to find work, had led to an increase in physical and emotional violence against women by their husbands, and to women taking out their stress and frustration verbally on their husbands and verbally and physically on their children.

Some women in Suleymania said many men were angry at how the men were treated by the host community — often taken advantage of at work, suffering physical and verbal abuse, being underpaid and forced to work long hours. These abuses were hard to address as Syrian refugees had inadequate access to legal protection.

‘However, the programme also made a strong case for the effectiveness of early and proactive intervention to address this issue, to change perceptions and start open discussions within the refugee community,’ Puttick noted. ‘The engagement of men and boys in this programming is critical – both to engage them as allies in sexual and gender-based violence programming and as potential victims of emotional and physical abuse.’

Key findings and recommendations of the programme include the importance of building trust in target communities, linking anti-SGBV efforts with livelihood and job creation schemes, ensuring services reach all of the affected community, including those living outside of refugee camps, and engaging host communities.

Recommendations for the INGO community engaged with SGBV include engaging the local government and building its capacity to effectively address this issue, and improving cooperation mechanisms between INGOs themselves.

Key project lessons: 

  • Project activities should be designed in a way that facilitates trust-building;
  • Anti-SGBV efforts should be combined with livelihoods assistance and job creation programmes;
  • Men and boys should be included in anti-SGBV programming by engaging them as allies in combating violence, but also by ensuring that services are available to male victims of SGBV;
  • Anti-SGBV programming should be extended to non-camp residents in a more sustained and targeted manner;
  • The quality of and access to shelter facilities for survivors of SGBV should be improved;
  • Host communities should be engaged with awareness sessions to reduce SGBV against refugees and create social cohesion between host and refugee communities.

Key lessons for INGOs: 

  • Building the capacity and involvement of the government should be a priority;
  • Cooperation mechanisms between NGOs need to be improved.

 

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ISIS fighters and their families facing justice: Eight options and four principles

Report PDF: Read the report here.

March 2019

Crimes under international law committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), including systematic attacks on civilian populations, have shocked the world. Now that the remaining ISIS-controlled territory in Syria is regained, attention is at last focusing on bringing ISIS leaders and fighters to justice. These include Iraqi and Syrian nationals, as well as the so-called ‘foreign fighters’ – nationals of other states in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as European, North American and other nationals. In particular, a global debate has begun about what to do with foreign fighters and their families, including a significant number of women and children.

This Ceasefire briefing considers eight accountability options potentially facing ISIS fighters and their families. It assesses the feasibility of each option and its implications, and then highlights four cross-cutting principles that should be taken into account in any decisions on justice mechanisms.

Since at least 2014, the need to hold ISIS accountable for its crimes has been considered a global priority. Which mechanism or mechanisms are now implemented will have major implications for the security of individual states across the world, for the long-term stability of the Middle East and North Africa, and, most pressing of all, for delivering justice to the tens of thousands of ISIS victims.

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Syrian refugee women and girls facing gender-based violence in Iraq’s Kurdistan region – new report

Syrian refugee women and girls facing gender-based violence in Iraq’s Kurdistan region – new report

May 2018

Seven years after the eruption of the conflict in Syria, refugee women and girls are facing gender-based violence in host countries in the region, says a new report from the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Asuda, a leading NGO combating violence against women in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Report: Broken Lives: Violence against Syrian refugee women and girls in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (Kurdish version | Arabic version) is based on 92 in-depth interviews conducted by the two organizations with Syrian women and girls.

It finds that the pressures associated with displacement, combined with the deteriorating economic situation of refugees in the Kurdistan Region, have led to higher levels of gender-based violence in the Syrian refugee community. In particular, intimate partner violence is on the rise, although other forms of violence within the family are also common.

‘Almost all Syrian women and girls report that the violence they experience either started or became worse after arriving in Iraq,’ says Miriam Puttick, Head of Middle East and North Africa Programmes at the Ceasefire Centre and author of the report. ‘This shows a clear connection between conflict-driven displacement, and levels of violence within the home.’

However, most Syrian women and girls interviewed had not reported their experiences to any authority.

‘The refugee women interviewed, most of whom live outside of official camps, were particularly isolated,’ says Shan Shafik, Project Manager at Asuda who oversaw field research for the report. ‘They had limited knowledge of, and little ability to access, organizations and service providers who might be able to offer support.’

The Kurdistan Regional Government has taken measures in recent years to address gender-based violence in the KR-I, including by passing a law criminalizing domestic violence in 2011. Syrian refugees technically fall under the remit of the law.

However, despite the fact that the government, UN agencies, and NGOs have all incorporated protection from GBV into their programming targeting Syrian refugees, factors including lack of knowledge about the available services and lack of trust in the authorities prevent many survivors from reporting GBV.

Making matters worse, many Syrian households are struggling to make ends meet, causing women to downplay the importance of their experiences of gender-based violence.

‘The Syrian community was hard hit by the economic and security crisis that struck the Kurdistan Region beginning in 2014,’ says Puttick. ‘Finding employment as a refugee became even more difficult, while the international humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis remains chronically underfunded.’

The two organizations argue that as conflict rages on in Syria, humanitarian actors must continue to plan for the long-term needs of the Syrian refugee community in Iraq, including by devoting attention to the specific needs of refugee women and girls. In this regard, the report identifies gaps and shortcomings in the services and remedies currently available to survivors of violence, and presents strategies for improvement.

Notes to editors

The Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights is an initiative to develop ‘civilian-led monitoring’ of violations of international humanitarian law or human rights, to pursue legal and political accountability for those responsible for such violations, and to develop the practice of civilian rights.

Asuda for Combating Violence against Women is a women’s rights NGO operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. Asuda’s vision is a world where women enjoy dignity and equal rights and access to resources and opportunities, where all forms of discrimination and marginalisation against women have been eliminated, where violence plays no part in women’s lives.

The report was produced with the financial assistance of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

For further information about the report or to arrange interviews, email contact@ceasefire.org.

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Eyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict

July 2017

Report PDF: EYES ON THE GROUND – Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring – Ceasefire July 2017

Technological advances have meant that civilians are now enabled to play a greater role than ever before in monitoring and documenting violations, finds a new report Eyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict.

As UN rapporteurs and other official international monitors are effectively denied access to a wide range of insecure territories around the world, civilian monitors have become a complementary, and in some cases the principal, source of information on what is happening on the ground to civilian populations.

The recommendations of the report on the strengthening of civilian-led monitoring draw on an expert seminar that took place in Geneva in June 2017, bringing together NGO leaders pioneering civilian-led monitoring in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other armed conflicts with senior representatives from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, Geneva Call, the Institute for International Humanitarian Law, academic and civil society experts and governments with an interest in promoting the implementation of international humanitarian law. As one of the experts commented: ‘The world doesn’t change with more information – but it just might, with good information.’

Civilian-led monitoring has developed on the back of:

  • The huge expansion in popular access to mobile telephony and digital communications;
  • The development of crowd-sourcing, digital mapping and crowd verification techniques, including through the use of open-source programmes;
  • Increased public awareness of human rights standards and IHL standards;
  • Advances in data-mining and news curation using increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence;
  • New opportunities for civil society organisation and activism created through social media;
  • Growing receptiveness of UN, inter-governmental and governmental bodies to information produced by civil society.

The increase in both the quantity and quality of data from civilian sources is also a response to the demand for real-time information and for in-situ monitoring. Traditional human rights and IHL monitoring mechanisms, including investigative rapporteurs and fact-finding missions, remain important but are subject to long time delays, frequent controversy over mandates, and concerns over selective reporting.

Drawing on the experience of a major pilot of civilian-led monitoring in Iraq, this report discusses significant challenges for civilian-led monitoring, including quality control, verification, security of activists and victims, and ethical questions raised by interviewing and documentation undertaken by unqualified activists. The challenges of verifying and authenticating information posted online are exacerbated during armed conflict where the deliberate spread of misinformation has a long history. This report discusses different approaches and techniques to verifying civilian-led monitoring information, including building on the experience developed by large media organizations for assessing user-generated content.

To support the effective deployment and expansion of civilian-led monitoring, this report recommends:

  • Appropriate training and capacity-building for civil-society organizations and activists on the ground in conflict-affected environments, including training on monitoring and documentation techniques, IHL and human rights standards, and cyber security;
  • Development of standardised reporting formats and related technical support in partnership with local civil society or civilian populations, to reflect the linguistic, technological and security situation on the ground;
  • Strengthened protection mechanisms for civilian monitors and other human rights defenders, including improved cyber security infrastructure;
  • Ensuring civilian rights to participate fully in civilian protection, peace-building and transitional justice processes.
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Justice for Syria: Small steps forward

July 2017

Recent months have seen a number of small steps forward in the struggle to achieve justice for atrocities committed in Syria. Criminal proceedings are now underway in a number of European countries, including Germany, Sweden and Spain, targeting perpetrators of torture and war crimes in Syria. For the first time, such proceedings target not just opposition fighters, but also senior individuals in Syrian military intelligence.

In a separate development, Catherine Marchi-Uhel of France was appointed this month as the head of the UN independent panel to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious violations of international law in Syria.

With pro bono support from a major international law form, Ceasefire has been undertaking feasibility work to support extra-territorial cases, both criminal and civil, concerning gross violations of the rights of civilians in Syria. [INSERT LINK TO ‘Accountability in Syria’ PAGE] Depending on the national laws in place, cases may be brought in European, North American or other jurisdictions, including those where Syrian perpetrators may have fled or Syrian victims may have sought refuge.

A Step towards Justice: Current accountability options for crimes under international law committed in Syria was the first report to offer a detailed examination of the mechanisms available to deliver justice to the Syrian people while the conflict goes on.

Drawing on comprehensive legal analysis, the joint report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) evaluates the potential avenues towards securing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including massacres of civilians, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, enforced disappearances, systematic torture, rape, and the use of children in hostilities.

While there are constraints on the current feasibility of the most prominent mechanisms, including domestic courts and the International Criminal Court, as well as alternative mechanisms such as hybrid tribunals, the use of foreign national courts remains open.

‘European jurisdictions are increasingly prosecuting those charged with supporting ISIS in Syria, but not those from the government side who commit atrocities,’ said Mark Lattimer, Ceasefire’s Director. ‘The challenge now is whether foreign courts or other mechanisms can bring to justice perpetrators from all sides of the conflict, including those with responsibility for the gravest crimes.’

‘Some countries might be able to utilize their domestic jurisdictions to prosecute a few perpetrators,’ said Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center. ‘While this is a good first step towards justice, and may be the only available one at the moment, it is not sufficient and does not respond to the magnitude of the violations occurring in Syria.’

In the context of very widespread impunity in Syria, a strategic approach to pursuing available accountability options is urgently needed. Improving the capacity of Syrians to document, prepare and bring cases will also prepare the ground for any larger, more comprehensive justice and reconciliation process in the future.

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Raqqa: Will the lessons from Mosul be learnt in time?

July 2017

As US-led coalition forces in partnership with a non-state armed group, the Syrian Democratic Forces, continue their attempt to take Raqqa from ISIS control, up to 200,000 civilians remain at risk, including some 70,000 inside the city.

In June the chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria warned that the intensification of coalition air strikes had already led to a ‘staggering loss of civilian life’. Syrian human rights groups have recorded some 1,400 civilian deaths in total over the last eight months including those from air strikes, artillery fire, and hundreds killed by ISIS on the ground.

The pattern of killing in Raqqa is tragically beginning to resemble that during the nine-month assault on Mosul in neighbouring Iraq, which ended this month.

A survey of recent practice by Iraqi and international coalition forces published by the Ceasefire Centre at the start of the Mosul campaign warned then that the lives of thousands of civilians were at critical risk.

Report PDF: Civilian protection in the battle for Mosul: critical priorities

Civilian protection in the battle for Mosul: Critical priorities found that recent precedents from military operations to retake Iraqi cities from ISIS control, including Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah and Sinjar, demonstrate a pattern of repeated failures to implement sufficient measures for civilian protection, both in the conduct of hostilities and in planning for the humanitarian consequences. In the event, thousands of civilians were killed in Mosul and, according to the most recent figure from the International Organization for Migration, over one million were displaced.

In particular, the imposition of siege tactics on ISIS-held cities and the intensive bombardment of urban areas by international coalition forces has combined with the ISIS tactic of using ‘human shields’ to result in thousands of civilian casualties and high levels of civilian suffering.

The operation to encircle Raqqa and lay siege to the city threatens to concentrate the battle in neighbourhoods that remain heavily populated with civilians.

All parties to the conflict should adhere at all times to their obligations under international humanitarian law, including ensuring respect for the fundamental principle of distinction, prohibiting indiscriminate attacks, and taking all feasible precautions to avoid, or in any event minimise, civilian death or injury or damage to civilian objects.

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Civilian deaths in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns 2014 – 2015

November 2015

Report PDF: Civilian deaths in the anti ISIS bombing campaigns

Over 4,000 civilians have been killed in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria during 2014 – 2015, according to available monitoring information based on credible local sources. The majority of these deaths, over 2,800, resulted from often indiscriminate bombardment by the Iraqi Security Forces. Hundreds of other civilians have been killed in anti-ISIS airstrikes carried out by members of the US-led international coalition, by the Syrian Air Force, and more recently by Russian forces, among others.

Civilian populations in Fallujah and other cities in western and northern Iraq, and in Raqqa, Aleppo and other areas of eastern and northern Syria, have been subjected to an unremitting and often indiscriminate bombardment, including the use of barrel bombs, that has left residential areas destroyed and caused extensive damage to schools, hospitals and mosques.

The international coalition is conducting airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria in support of the Iraqi government’s struggle against ISIS and cites the collective self-defence of Iraq as the primary justification for its use of force under international law. Intelligence from Iraqi security forces on the ground is used to inform the targeting of international coalition strikes, and military training, intelligence and equipment, including American F16 fighter aircraft, are supplied by members of the coalition to Iraqi forces. Under the circumstances, there is a serious failure to take any collective responsibility for the unacceptable rates of civilian casualties.

The prevention of future civilian casualties is being impeded by the failure by all parties to the conflict to acknowledge civilian deaths and investigate them transparently. In respect of the international coalition, failures in transparency represent a marked deterioration from recent practice in other conflicts.

This report recommends:

  • All credible allegations of civilian casualties should be subject to an effective, prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, and the results made transparent, with a view to suppressing breaches of international humanitarian law and violations of human rights and securing reparation for victims and their families;
  • The international coalition should seek to ensure that both its individual members, and the Iraqi Security Forces it supports, prohibit attacks targeted at civilians or civilian objects, prohibit indiscriminate attacks and take all feasible precautions to avoid or at least minimise civilian death or injury;

Any decision to undertake further military action should put in place adequate mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the action according to its effect on the civilian population.

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As atrocities continue to mount in Syria, new report reveals potential options for securing justice during the conflict

May 2015

As atrocities continue to mount in Syria, A Step towards Justice: Current accountability options for crimes under international law committed in Syria is the first report to offer a detailed examination of the mechanisms available to deliver justice to the Syrian people while the conflict goes on.

Drawing on comprehensive legal analysis, the joint report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) evaluates the potential avenues towards securing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including massacres of civilians, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, enforced disappearances, systematic torture, rape, and the use of children in hostilities.

While there are constraints on the current feasibility of the most prominent mechanisms, including domestic courts and the International Criminal Court, as well as alternative mechanisms such as hybrid tribunals, the use of foreign national courts remains open.

‘European jurisdictions are increasingly prosecuting those charged with supporting ISIS in Syria, but not those from the government side who commit atrocities,’ said Mark Lattimer, Ceasefire’s Director. ‘The challenge now is whether foreign courts or other mechanisms can bring to justice perpetrators from all sides of the conflict, including those with responsibility for the gravest crimes.’

‘Some countries might be able to utilize their domestic jurisdictions to prosecute a few perpetrators,’ said Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center. ‘While this is a good first step towards justice, and may be the only available one at the moment, it is not sufficient and does not respond to the magnitude of the violations occurring in Syria over the past four years.’

The report examines the practical and ethical challenges of the various accountability mechanisms currently available. By providing recommendations to better inform the international community’s role in securing accountability under international law, the report helps to guide the next step towards justice in Syria.

The report’s findings will be discussed at a meeting at the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights in Washington DC on Tuesday 12 May from 2:00PM – 3:00 PM (EDT) with:

Chair: Honorable Patricia Wald, former Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. A former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, she is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Mark Lattimer, Director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

Mohammed Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre

Jennifer Trahan, Associate Clinical Professor at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University

 

SianAs atrocities continue to mount in Syria, new report reveals potential options for securing justice during the conflict
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