Syria

Afrin after Operation Olive Branch: An update on the situation in north-west Syria

As the UN Human Rights Council prepares to hear the findings of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and YASA e.V. – Kurdish Centre for Studies & Legal Consultancy have submitted a briefing to the Commission about the human rights situation in Afrin in Turkish-occupied northern Syria.

SianAfrin after Operation Olive Branch: An update on the situation in north-west Syria
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Syria’s minorities used in war of narratives, at the cost of civilian lives – new report

June 2021

Syria’s minorities have been caught in a war of narratives waged by the Syrian state, regional and international actors, according to a new report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. Most notably, the Assad-led government’s narrative that it is a ‘protector of minorities’ has been used to justify ongoing violations against civilians and activists.

In the Name of Protection: Minorities and identity in the Syrian conflict draws on 14 in-depth interviews with Syrian activists and civilians of diverse religious minority backgrounds to explore the multifaceted and layered experiences of minorities during the conflict. Their testimonies challenge and complicate widespread assumptions made about religious minorities in Syria.

SianSyria’s minorities used in war of narratives, at the cost of civilian lives – new report
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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.

ceasefireTurkey orchestrating destruction, demographic change in northern Syria – new report
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Study finds displacement, economic hardship drive domestic abuse among Syrian refugees in Iraq   

March 2019

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”.  

SianStudy finds displacement, economic hardship drive domestic abuse among Syrian refugees in Iraq   
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ISIS fighters and their families facing justice: Eight options and four principles

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.

SianISIS fighters and their families facing justice: Eight options and four principles
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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.

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.

SianSyrian refugee women and girls facing gender-based violence in Iraq’s Kurdistan region – new report
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Eyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict

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.

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

SianRaqqa: Will the lessons from Mosul be learnt in time?
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Civilian deaths in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns 2014 – 2015

November 2015

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.

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