On World Children’s Day: SNHR’s 12th Annual Report on Violations Against Children in Syria
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its 12th annual report on violations against children in Syria, marking World Children’s Day. In the report, the group reveals that no fewer than 30,127 children have been killed in Syria since March 2011, including 198 who died due to torture, while 5,229 children are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared.
The 68-page report notes that Syria ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1993, as well as ratifying its two optional protocols. However, while it’s true that all parties to the conflict in Syria have been guilty of violating children’s rights to some degree, the Syrian regime bears by far the greatest responsibility in terms of the number of crimes perpetrated, in a manner which exhibits a clear pattern and demonstrates a deliberate and systematic aspect in the regime’s violations of children’s rights. In this context, the report stresses that the Committee on the Rights of the Child bears legal and moral responsibility for monitoring the state of rights of the child in Syria, and for putting an end to the violations being committed by the Syrian regime.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, SNHR Executive Director says:
“Having worked on compiling SNHR’s database for the past 13 years, it has become clear to us that the Syrian regime’s violations against children are, in large part, deliberate and calculated. They aim to inflict as much pain as possible on the families, neighborhoods, and areas that opposed the Assads’ rule and called for long overdue political change. Not only has the regime bombed and arrested men and women, but it also targeted the dearest things to their hearts, namely their children, in order to subjugate and terrorize them, and to send a threatening message to the other neighborhoods and areas of the dreadful cost of joining the calls for political change, which explains the regime’s repeated bombardment of schools and kindergartens.”
The report sheds light on the catastrophic state of affairs for children in Syria. To this end, the report provides a summary of the most notable violations committed by the various parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and November 20, 2023, with particular focus on the violations taking place between November 20, 2022, and November 20, 2023, as documented on SNHR’s database. The report contains 10 first-hand accounts, all of which have been collected directly from eyewitnesses, rather than from any second-hand sources, in addition to drawing upon monitoring and authentication of incidents and on news items, data collected, and the analysis of footage available on open sources such as the internet.
The report also alludes to SNHR’s close collaboration with the UNICEF’s Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations (MRM). As the report further reveals, whenever the opportunity presents itself to do so, SNHR nominates a girl or a boy from an area of Syria for the annual International Children’s Peace Prize in acknowledgment of their exceptional efforts in supporting their peers and highlighting their suffering resulting from the violations they’ve experienced due to the armed conflict in the country.
The report focuses particularly on the gross human rights violations committed against children. Those seven primary violations are: Extrajudicial killing; unlawful detention, arbitrary arrest, abduction, and enforced disappearance; torture; sexual violence; child recruitment; attacks on vital facilities, such as schools, and medical facilities, such as hospitals, and the blockage or denial of humanitarian assistance. Moreover, the report categorizes violations against children according to gender (male/female), by the parties to the conflict committing the violation, or by the year in which the violations took place, in addition to providing an analysis based on each category. The report also compares the differences between the overall toll of violations taking place since March 2011 up until November 2023, and between March 2011 and November 2022, since the release of our last report on violations against children, focusing on whether the rate of violations has increased, decreased, or remained at the same level in every chart.
The report documents the killing of 30,127 children at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria since March 2011; 23,022 of these child victims were killed at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while 2,049 were killed by Russian forces. In addition, a total of 958 children were killed by ISIS, and 74 were killed by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Furthermore, the report adds, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was responsible for the killing of 260 children, while all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) killed 1,009 children. Lastly, 926 children were killed in attacks by international coalition forces, while 1,829 children were killed by other parties. Analysis of those figures shows that the Syrian regime has been responsible for 77% of all extrajudicial killings of children. As the report notes, 2013 saw the highest documented death toll among children, followed by 2012, then 2014, and then 2016.
With regard to arrest/detention, enforced disappearance, and torture, the report notes that no fewer than 5,229 children are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces, divided as follows: 3,696 children are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared by Syrian regime forces, 47 by HTS, 803 by SDF, and 364 by all armed opposition factions (SNA). The report adds that 319 of the children who are still forcibly disappeared were arrested by ISIS before the group became defunct for the most part in Syria. The report further notes that 2014 was the worst to date in terms of the number of arrests/detentions and enforced disappearances involving children, with 71 percent of all arrests in that year made by Syrian regime forces.
The report notes that the Syrian regime has referred children to exceptional courts such as the Military Field Court and the Counterterrorism Court without assigning a special juvenile judge, as required, except in a handful of cases. Many of these children received exceptionally harsh sentences, including both long prison sentences and even death sentences. The report adds that many cases were recorded where children were arrested before they were even 10 years old and were not released until they were adults. Many children also told us they were taken to trial sessions in handcuffs and wearing ragged clothing that didn’t hide the signs of torture and malnutrition. They were also left alone with no family or a family member. The judges trying their cases did not listen to their statements or take their age into consideration. This is despite the fact that the juvenile judiciary is, under Syrian law, the sole apparatus authorized to try juvenile offenders in terms of its individual, quantitive and spatial jurisdiction. The juvenile judiciary is an independent apparatus, with no other court qualified to try juvenile offenders even in the case of an exceptional court with a special mandate established by a special law.
As the report further reveals, children are usually subjected to torture from the very first moment of their arrests. Torture may or may not lead to the death of the detained children. In this context, the report records that 198 children have died due to torture in Syria since March 2011, including 190 children who died in regime detention centers, while two died in HTS detention centers, one at the hands of ISIS, two at the hands of SDF, and one at the hands of the armed opposition/SNA. Lastly, two children have died due to torture at the hands of other parties.
Additionally, the report documents that no fewer than 1,681 of the schools and kindergartens in Syria have been targeted by attacks carried out by the various parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since March 2011 up until November 2023. The report also documents no fewer than 889 attacks on medical facilities.
The report stresses that remnants of the weapons used by the Syrian regime and its allies in widespread and indiscriminate attacks against areas that broke free of its control continue to pose a serious threat to the safety and lives of civilians, especially children. At the top of this list are cluster munitions which have an indiscriminate nature. As the report further reveals, no fewer than 889 children have died in the explosions of hundreds of anti-personnel landmines across Syria,
The report also records that no fewer than 24 of the children forcibly disappeared in regime detention centers have been registered as dead in the civil registry between 2018 and November 20, 2023. The cause of death has not been revealed in any of these cases, while the victims’ bodies have not been returned to the families, and their deaths were not publicly registered at the time they took place.
Furthermore, the report records no fewer than 1,493 cases of child recruitment by Syrian regime forces, divided between 1,167 male children and 326 female children. Of these children, 67 died in battle, while 109 have been released, with 1,317 others still actively serving, divided between 1,083 boys and 234 females. These 1,493 cases include all the cases documented in the previous years in which children (i.e. juveniles aged under 18) have been recruited. Given the high number of children recruited and the low number of children discharged, the number of children who are militarily active has not changed greatly during this period. The report further notes that Syrian regime forces, through their affiliated local and foreign militias, are responsible for approximately 65 percent of all child recruitment cases, followed by the SDF, with children making up a significant proportion of their forces.
The report further reveals that Syrian regime forces have routinely used sexual violence against children, which has been manifested in various forms, highlighting the long-term physical and psychological effects of such traumatic abuse on child victims. In the period covered, the report notes, SNHR documented no fewer than 539 incidents of sexual violence against children.
The report adds that use of cluster munitions by Russian forces has killed 67 children since the launch of Russia’s military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015. Furthermore, Russian attacks have damaged no fewer than 221 schools and 209 medical facilities in the same period.
The report also provides details of the violations against children by HTS. In addition to killing and imprisoning children, HTS has established dozens of training centers for children who are enrolled simultaneously in religious and military training courses to mold their beliefs and values and indoctrinate them into taking up arms and joining the group’s ranks. In fact, HTS uses many of the methods previously employed by ISIS in relation to recruiting and indoctrinating children at an early age to ensure their enduring loyalty. Meanwhile, the report documents three attacks on schools and two on medical facilities by the HTS as of November 20, 2023.
In relation to the SDF and child recruitment, the report notes that the SDF have recruited children in a widespread manner. This is despite the fact that the Kurdish Self-Administration signed a joint action plan with the UN in to put an end to child recruitment, and release children who have already been recruited. Additionally, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units signed a deed of commitment with the Geneva Call organization in June 2014 banning the use of children in wars. Despite these actions, however, the group’s recruitment of children has not stopped. Relatedly, the report documented that no fewer than 296 children are still actively serving with the SDF, whose personnel have been responsible for killing of 260 children since the group’s initial emergence. The group is also responsible for attacks on fewer than 37 schools and 12 medical facilities as of November 20, 2023.
The report also summarizes the most notable violations committed by all armed opposition factions/SNA. In addition to killing and imprisoning children, armed opposition factions have recruited children, taking advantage of their poor living conditions to induce them to enlist. According to the report, 12 children have been killed in action with armed opposition factions, while no fewer than 37 schools and 15 medical facilities have been attacked by all armed opposition factions/SNA as of November 20, 2023.
The report further stresses the ramifications of the gross violations against children in relation to their economic, social, and cultural rights, focusing specifically on education, child labor, children’s involvement in the drug trade, and children’s poor living conditions in camps. In this context, the report notes that children under the age of 18 are routinely and widely used in the drug trade, especially in relation to Captagon, which has spread throughout Syria, particularly in regime-held areas. The Syrian regime maintains a monopoly over Captagon production, trafficking and export networks.
The report stresses that despite the abundance of international instruments establishing and protecting children’s rights at all times, violations against children in Syria have not stopped for 12 years. All parties to the conflict have failed to respect those rules. The Syrian regime has not been deterred by those conventions, despite having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, from committing violations against children, some of which qualify as crimes against humanity through the acts of extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, torture, while others qualify as war crimes through the acts of forced conscription Furthermore, many of the violations committed by the other parties to the conflict against children could amount to war crimes if they were committed in the context of the conflict, and also as widespread violations of international human rights law if they were committed against children affiliated with those forces.
The report calls on the international community to ensure the protection of and aid for forcibly displaced children, both IDPs and refugees, especially girls and ensure their needs are met, particularly as regards protection.
The report stresses that all possible legal, political, and financial measures must be taken against the Syrian regime and its allies, as well as against other perpetrators of violations in the Syrian conflict, in order to put pressure on them to compel them to respect children’s rights. It also stresses the need for states to meet their financial pledges, to help the countries neighboring Syria and to provide every possible bit of support to improve the level of education and healthcare in those countries that are housing the largest proportion of child refugees. The report also calls for devising mechanisms to stop the bombing of schools and kindergartens, to protect those facilities, and to work on creating a safe educational environment.
The report additionally calls for coordinating humanitarian relief operations by focusing on the worst affected areas, and underlines the need to avoid falling prey to the pressure and exploitation by the Syrian regime that attempts to solicit aid in its own favor, as well as to secure the necessary resources to rehabilitate children, while placing special emphasis on the special needs of girls who have been directly affected by violations, as well as making a number of other recommendations.