Bombing civilians by Syrian and Russian armed forces during a campaign against the last rebel bastion in north-west Syria may amount to crimes against humanity, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
The global rights group 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 strikes and shelling that took place.
The attacks involved repeated violations “apparent war crimes, and may amount to crimes against humanity”, the report said.
“They hit hospitals, schools, markets, residential areas. Not 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 unliveable in the hope it 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 found refuge during the 10-year old conflict. The allies say they target radical militants who hold sway in the region.
HRW 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 top military commanders it said were “command responsible” and should be held responsible.
“It’s only by following up and ensuring these people who oversaw these war crimes, do not get away with impunity, that there are consequences for pursuing this war crime strategy,” Roth said.