Syria: Cluster Munitions Used in November 6 Attacks

Hits on Displaced People’s Camps Killed Civilians

Attacks by the Syrian-Russian military alliance on November 6, 2022, used banned cluster munitions on four camps for internally displaced people, Human Rights Watch said today.The attacks killed eight civilians and wounded dozens of others, including a 28-year-old pregnant woman who died of her wounds, along with her fetus, on November 15. Others killed include a 14-year-old girl, two girls under age 6, and a 4-month-old boy. The attacks wounded at least 75 other Syrians who had sought refuge from elsewhere in Syria in 4 camps across northwest Idlib governate. Two witnesses said there was no military activity by armed groups in or around the camps at the time of the attacks.“The Syrian-Russian military alliance continues to defiantly use banned weapons against a trapped civilian population in Syria with devastating consequences,” said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Not only are cluster munitions harming Syrians today, but unexploded submunitions can go on killing long into the future.”Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery systems like rockets and projectiles or dropped from aircraft. They typically disperse in the air, spreading multiple submunitions or bomblets indiscriminately over an area about the size of a city block. Many fail to explode on initial impact, leaving dangerous duds that can kill and maim, like landmines, for years or even decades unless cleared and destroyed.The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which 110 countries have ratified and 13 more have signed, comprehensively prohibits these weapons and requires the clearance of contaminated areas, and assistance to victims. Neither Syria nor Russia are parties. Syria Civil Defence, a volunteer search-and-rescue group operating in opposition-held areas, has been clearing unexploded ordnance since 2016.Following the November 6 cluster munitions attacks, the group told Human Rights Watch that they had found and cleared 14 unexploded submunitions.Human Rights Watch interviewed eight witnesses in the camps, who said that the strikes took place sometime between 6 and 7 a.m., when some people were still sleeping, others were at the mosque for morning prayers, and children were getting ready for school. Researchers also spoke to first responders and analyzed videos and photographs taken during and just after the attacks that were uploaded to social media platforms or shared directly with researchers.The camps, on the outskirts of the towns of Kafr Jalis, Murin, and Kafr Ruhin, host over 1,000 internally displaced families. All are within 9 kilometers of Idlib city. Idlib governorate, is largely under the control of anti-government armed groups loosely linked to Turkey, and is home to at least 3 million civilians, half of them displaced from elsewhere in Syria.The densely populated Maram camp, near the town of Kafr Jalis was hardest hit, with six deaths. Human Rights Watch separately interviewed five residents of the camp. The camp is managed by the Maram Foundation for Relief and Development, a non-profit humanitarian organization.“The attack took place as children were having breakfast and getting ready to go to school,” said Motasim Addad, the camp manager at Maram. “The explosions came one after the other, fire spread almost across the camp, the explosions led to panic and fear and there was shrapnel everywhere.”Syria Civil Defence said that the camps were damaged, with 24 trailers destroyed and partial damage to 160 others. Addad said the camp’s water and sanitation networks were also damaged.On November 7, Syria’s state news agency, SANA, said that the Syrian government, in collaboration with the Russian air force attacked a forested area used by terrorist groups as a headquarters and a training ground. The report claimed the operation was carried out “with precision.”The camps at Murin and Kafr Rohein are approximately 1 to 3 kilometers from the forested area. A rocket landed just over 250 meters from Wadi Khaled camp and Maram camp was directly struck. “There are no military bases in this camp, no military elements whatsoever in this area,” said Addad.On the eve of November 6, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that the “Operation Room of Al Fateh Al Mubin,” a coalition of local armed factions operating in the area, struck Syrian government positions in Saraqeb, Maarat Al Numan, and Khan Al Sibl in retaliation. The coalition includes Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant anti-government group in Idlib, which the United States designates a foreign terrorist organization and on which the United Nations has imposed sanctions.The Syrian displacement crisis remains one of the most dire and protracted consequences of the war. Since the onset of the war in 2011, 12.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with 6.7 million currently internally displaced across the country. Four of those interviewed said that they and their families had been displaced at least three times since the start of the conflict. Two of the residents of Maram camp said they came to the camp expecting it to be safe. Most camp residents who fled the attack have since returned as “they have nowhere else to go,” Addad said.“I had been praying and preparing breakfast for my husband as he was about to leave to the olive fields,” said a 25-year-old woman originally from Hama who said she arrived in Maram camp with her husband and three children three years ago. “I jumped over my daughters to cover them. I thought we will die together, my daughters and I.”Another resident of Maram camp said that the attack injured 4 of his 12 children. “My wife is at the hospital still in critical condition, and one of my children is in intensive care [in Turkey],” he said on November 9. “This tent can shield children?” he said. “You use this [weapon] to strike? It will cut even a camel.” Human Rights Watch also spoke to Abu Mohammad, the camp manager at Water Station Camp in Kafr Ruhin, a kilometer north of the affected forested area and a kilometer west of Maram camp. He said he had only recently received trailers to replace the tents housing 111 displaced families around one month ago. “In my camp,” he said. “A total of 12 people were injured, and one woman was killed. She was 65, a mother to four young men. One of the explosives landed just a meter away from her. Her husband’s legs were broken in the attack.” Abu Mohammad also reported damage to water tankers and solar equipment. He said some of the trailers needed replacing.Ahmad Eid al-Hussein, the camp manager of Wadi Khaled camp, 2 kilometers west of Idlib city, said that the strikes injured eight camp residents and caused extensive damage to the camp. “I fled with almost everyone else as the cluster munitions were falling,” he said. “These moments cannot be described, you can’t even begin to imagine … Wherever you looked around you, missiles were falling.”Photographs of the physical remnants of a weapon used in the attacks and shared on social media by the Syria Civil Defence show an expended cargo section of a 9M27K-series Uragan cluster munition rocket lodged in the ground where it landed near Wadi Khaled camp and at least one unexploded 9N235 submunition nearby.Each 220mm 9M27K-series Uragan (“Hurricane”) surface-to-surface rocket has a range of 10 to 35 kilometers and contains 30 9N235 or 30 9N210 fragmentation submunitions. Human Rights Watch has previously reported the Syrian government’s use of this type of cluster munition rocket, including an October 9, 2015 attack on a camp for internally displaced people. Russian forces have also used the same type of cluster munition rockets in Ukraine in 2022.Since the outset of the armed conflict in Syria in 2012, Human Rights Watch has documented civilian harm from Syrian government use of cluster munitions. In March 2020, Turkey and Russia agreed to an uneasy ceasefire for all warring parties in Idlib governorate. Attacks have continued despite the ceasefire.As part of a military alliance, Russia is jointly responsible for the use of prohibited weapons and any violations of the laws of war committed in Syria. It should immediately cease providing munitions to its ally and urge Syria to stop using them.Human Rights Watch cofounded and chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition, the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations working to ban cluster munitions and implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions.“Concerted international efforts are needed to demonstrate that there are consequences for continuing atrocities in Syria,” Coogle said. “Impunity will only breed more unlawful attacks and civilian carnage.”


Global Plastics Treaty: Opportunity to Protect Rights

In First Talks, Countries Should Address Human Rights Impacts

Governments attending negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty should ensure that the new treaty protects human rights throughout the plastic life cycle, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a question-and-answer document about the human rights impacts of plastic production, use, and disposal. Governments are to meet in Punta del Este, Uruguay, beginning in November 2022, for a first round of talks on the treaty.While often framed as a strictly environmental pollution issue, plastic production, use, and disposal have significant impacts on human rights.“The global plastics treaty is an important opportunity to address the environmental and human costs of plastics,” said Katharina Rall, senior environment researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Governments should seize this chance to protect the rights of communities around the globe that are harmed by plastic pollution.”In its question-and-answer document, Human Rights Watch outlines how plastic production, use, and disposal generates harmful effects for human health and the environment. International human rights law obligates governments to address the harms and to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights to health, water, access to information, and a healthy environment.Each year, more than 300 million metric tons of plastic is created. Many plastic products are single use, cannot be recycled, and remain in the environment for decades or centuries. Only 9 percent of plastic ever produced has been recycled, while most plastic waste accumulates in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment.Because they are made of fossil fuels, plastics are driving the climate crisis, which in turn threatens protection of human rights. They also contain toxic chemical additives, which can pose significant threats to human health especially for children, women, and older people. Plastic can take centuries to break down, potentially causing harm for future generations. Plastic production, which has increased significantly over recent decades, is projected to triple from 2015 to 2060.Human Rights Watch has documented that plastic recycling poses threats to the right to health of workers and local residents in Turkey. In addition, other research shows that shipment of plastic waste from countries in the Global North to countries with weak or nonexistent environmental regulations, low labor costs, and little government oversight on environmental and labor rights violations can contribute to serious human rights harm.In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) agreed to establish a committee to draft a treaty address the global plastics crisis. The aim is to reach agreement by the end of 2024 with four additional rounds of negotiations and to open the agreement for adoption in 2025. Governments in the UNEA should negotiate a legally binding treaty that addresses human rights harm, ends the production of unnecessary virgin plastic, removes toxins from plastic products, and includes specific provisions to protect human rights, Human Rights Watch said. Governments should also ensure meaningful public participation in treaty negotiations, including for communities most affected by the global plastics crisis.“Without curbing plastic production, the plastics crisis will only get worse, further threatening the rights of people around the world and damaging the climate,” Rall said. “Governments negotiating the new treaty should push for an agreement that requires concrete steps to end the production of unnecessary plastic.”

Iran: UN Rights Council Should Create Fact-Finding Mission

Security Forces Intensify Crackdown, Escalate Abuses in Kurdistan

United Nations Human Rights Council member countries should vote to establish an independent fact-finding mission to investigate Iran’s deadly crackdown on widespread protests as a first step toward accountability, Human Rights Watch said today. On November 24, 2022, the council will hold a special session on ongoing human rights violations in Iran.The demonstrations began on September 16, 2022, following the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, in the custody of the “morality police.” As of November 22, human rights groups are investigating the deaths of 434 people including 60 children. Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of Iranian authorities using excessive and unlawful lethal force against protesters in dozens of instances in several cities including Sanandaj, Saghez, Mahabad, Rasht, Amol, Shiraz, Mashhad, and Zahedan.“Iranian authorities seem determined to unleash brutal force to crush protests and have ignored calls to investigate the mountains of evidence of serious rights violations,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Human Rights Council should shine a spotlight on the deepening repression and create an independent mechanism to investigate Iranian government abuses and hold those responsible accountable.”Since mid-November, Iranian authorities have dramatically escalated their crackdown against protests in several Kurdish cities, with at least 39 people killed, according to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network. The group reported that from November 15 to 18, at least 25 Kurdish-Iranian residents were killed in Kurdish cities during three days of protests and strikes to commemorate the victims of the government’s bloody crackdown on protests in November 2019.The authorities have pressured families of recent victims to bury their loved ones without public gatherings, but several funerals have become the scene of new protests. The group said that at least 14 people were killed in Javanrood, Piranshahr, Sanandaj, Dehgan, and Bookan from November 19 to 21, 2022. Radio Zamaneh said the victims included Ghader Shakri, 16, killed in Piranshahr on November 19, and Bahaedin Veisi, 16, killed in Javanrood on November 20.A 32-year-old Sanandaj resident told Human Rights Watch that the security forces fatally shot Shaho Bahmani and Aram Rahimi on November 17 and forcibly removed their bodies from the Kowsar Hospital in Sanandaj, and threatened the two men’s families outside the hospital.Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, a parliament member from Mahabad, told Shargh Daily on November 21 that between October 27 and 29, security forces killed seven protesters in the city Mahabad. Mahmoudzadeh said security forces also damaged people’s houses; one woman was killed in her home outside of the protests. He said that since then, another man had been killed, and three more had been shot and killed during his funeral, bringing the total number killed in Mahabad, since October 27, to 11.Videos circulated on social media show that authorities have deployed special forces and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps units armed with military assault rifles, vehicle-mounted DShK 12.7mm heavy machine guns, and armored vehicles.On October 24, Masoud Setayeshi, the judiciary spokesperson, told media that authorities have started prosecuting thousands of protesters. These trials, which are often publicized through state media, fall grossly short of international human rights standards, with courts regularly using coerced confessions and defendants not having access to the lawyer of their choice. As of November 21, trial courts have handed down death sentences to at least six protesters on the charges of corruption on earth and enmity against God. The acts judicial authorities have cited to bring charges against the defendants, including “incineration of a government building” or “using a “cold weapon” to “spread terror among the public.” Amnesty International said that at least 21 people are facing charges in connection to the protests that can carry the death penalty.Since the protests began in September, the authorities have arrested thousands of people during protests as well as hundreds of students, human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers outside the protests. Detainees are kept in overcrowded settings and are subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual harassment, Human Rights Watch said.Two women who were arrested during the first week of protests in Sanandaj told Human Rights Watch that the authorities brutally beat them, sexually harassed them, and threatened them during their arrests and later while they were detained at a police station. One of these women said she had several severe injuries, including internal bleeding and fractures.Over the past four years, Iran has experienced several waves of widespread protests. Authorities have responded with excessive and unlawful lethal force and the arbitrary arrests of thousands of protesters. In one of the most brutal crackdowns, in November 2019, security forces used unlawful force against massive protests across the country, killing at least 321 people. Iranian authorities have failed to conduct any credible and transparent investigations into the security forces’ serious abuses over the past years.Iranian authorities have also used partial or total internet shutdowns during widespread protests to restrict access to information and prohibit dissemination of information, in particular videos of the protests, Human Rights Watch said. They have blocked several social media platforms, including WhatsApp messaging application and Instagram, since September 21, 2022, by an order of Iran’s National Security Council.“On November 24, UN Human Rights Council members should vote to establish an independent mechanism to document serious human rights violations in Iran and advance on the path to accountability,” Sepehri Far said.

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