Human Rights Watch recently released a report on the criminal destruction of neighborhoods by the Syrian government in the cities of Hama and Damascus. A thorough examination of the course of events and the misleading government news coverage has led the group to conclude that the demolitions were done intentionally by the Syrian military as part of the conflict with opposition forces, meaning the destruction constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law, aka the “laws of war.”
The independent human rights organization found that “seven cases of large-scale demolitions documented in this report violated the laws of war either because they served no necessary military purpose and appeared intended to punish the civilian population, or because they caused disproportionate harm to civilians.”
The government and government-supported news outlets alleged that the destruction was done in order to remove homes that were illegally built or to combat terrorist activity there. The neighborhood of Wadi al-Jouz, spanning 10 hectares according to the report, was destroyed last year between April 30 and May 15. Satellite photos, provided in the report and shown below, reveal what witnesses told HRW was a result of heavy bulldozing and excavating of homes.
The witnesses told the organization that much like the al-Arb’een neighborhoods, which were also destroyed, “opposition fighters had used the Wadi al-Jouz neighborhood to enter and leave Hama city because of its location on the edge of the city,” and that as a result, the area was heavily shelled for two days, then bulldozed.
A woman from a nearby district told HRW, “After the demolition, the army came to our neighborhood, saying through loudspeakers that they would destroy our neighborhood like they destroyed Wadi al-Jouz and Masha’al-Arb’een should a single bullet be fired from here.”
More photo and video evidence was obtained, as well as numerous civilian interviews on the estimated 145 hectares of seven neighborhoods that government forces demolished, displacing thousands of families. According to reports from observers and victims, much of the time the demolition came with minimal or no warning and sometimes without explanation, as well as without compensation for the homes and property lost.
This latest report comes as the Geneva II Syrian peace conference continues, hitting major speed bumps as it progresses. “We have not had any breakthrough, but we are still at it,” said Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations’ Arab League special representative, on Wednesday. Discussions have been had regarding the need for humanitarian aid in regions presently preventing help, especially Hama, but as yet have not been entirely successful.
The HRW’s 2014 World Report was released just prior to the talk’s start. In it, Syrian war crimes and violence were outlined, with major concerns as to the effectiveness of the peace convention in stopping civilian casualties and increasing humanitarian aid. “While the likelihood of reaching a political accommodation among the warring factions anytime soon is remote, the fear of doing anything that might dissuade Damascus from participating in Geneva II has become the latest excuse for not putting real pressure on Syria to stop killing civilians by conventional means and to permit the free flow of humanitarian aid,” said the report.
Around the time the 2014 World Report was released, a major international legal firm based out of London, Carter-Ruck and Co., released its report on the legitimacy of some 55,000 photos brought to light showing the effects of violence from the Syrian regime.
Now, the HRW is calling on the United Nations Security Council to “refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court” and to “demand that Syria cooperate fully with the UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry on Syria.”