Bombing of civilians by Syrian and Russian armed forces during a campaign against the last rebel bastion in northwest Syria may amount to crimes against humanity, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Thursday.
The global rights group said it investigated dozens of “unlawful” air and ground strikes on civilian targets in the region around the city of Idlib between April 2019 and March 2020 that killed hundreds of civilians and displaced over 1.4 million people.
HRW said its 167-page report, “Targeting Life in Idlib” used hundreds of photos and satellite imagery as well as flight spotter logs to examine 46 bombing incidents, a fraction of the air strikes and shelling that took place.
The attacks involved repeated violations that were “apparent war crimes, and may amount to crimes against humanity”, the report said.
“They hit hospitals, schools, markets, residential areas. Not just inadvertently, not while they were trying to target the so-called terrorist, but deliberately,” Kenneth Roth, the organisation’s global head, told Reuters TV.
The aim of the 11-month military campaign “was to drive out civilians and make their lives unlivable in the hope that it then will be easier for Russian and Syrian armed forces to recapture the territory,” Roth said.
Moscow and Damascus deny accusations of indiscriminate bombing of civilians in an area where three million people have found refuge during the nearly 10-year old conflict. The two allies say they only target radical militants who hold sway in the region.
HRW said it had received no response to a summary of findings and questions to the Syrian and Russian governments.
The campaign ended after a ceasefire last March between Turkey and Russia, which support opposing sides in the conflict.
The HRW report named 10 senior Russian and Syrian officials including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin and their top military commanders who it said were “command responsible” and should be held responsible.
“It’s really only by following up and ensuring that these people who have overseen these war crimes, do not get away with impunity, that there are consequences for pursuing this war crime strategy,” Roth said. (Additional reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman Editing by Tomasz Janowski)