Syria

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 09 August 2016

Summary: Non-signatory Syria has expressed minimal interest in the convention and has not taken any steps toward accession. It participated in one meeting of the convention in September 2011. It abstained from voting on a UN resolution on the convention in December 2015.

Syria has denied possessing or using cluster munitions, but its forces have used them extensively since mid-2012. At least 325 cluster munition attacks have been recorded in 10 of Syria’s 14 governorates in the four-year period to July 2016, but the actual number is far higher because not all use is documented. At least 13 types of air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munitions have been used in the conflict as well as an unknown submunition that Islamic State (IS) first used in cluster munition rockets in 2014 in northern Syria. After Russia began its joint military operation with Syrian government forces on 30 September 2015, the use of cluster munitions increased significantly. The ongoing cluster munition use in Syria has generated widespread media coverage, public outcry, and condemnations by more than 140 states.

Policy 

The Syrian Arab Republic has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Syrian government has commented publicly once on the question of accession. In September 2011, its representative informed a meeting of the Convention on Cluster Munitions that Syria views cluster munitions as “criminalized by humanity” and said, “We appreciate the international effort to ban these weapons, but cannot sign due to Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.”[1]

Unlike other non-signatories, Syria abstained from the vote on the first UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the Convention on Cluster Munitions on 7 December 2015, which urges states outside the convention to “join as soon as possible.”[2] Syria did not explain why it abstained on the non-binding resolution that 139 states voted to adopt.

Syria did not participate in the Oslo Process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Syria’s participation as an observer in the convention’s Second Meeting of States Parties in Beirut, Lebanon in September 2011 marks its first and only attendance at a meeting of the convention.

Syria is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty or the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production and transfer

Syria is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions.

Stockpiling 

Based on evidence of cluster munition use by government forces since 2012, Syria has imported or otherwise received at least 13 types of cluster munitions made by two countries, as the table below shows. The circumstances of when and how the Syrian government obtained these cluster munitions, including their quantities, are not known.[3]

In addition, it is not clear how IS (also called ISIL) obtained cluster munitions rockets of unknown origin containing a DPICM-type submunition called “ZP-39” that it first used in northern Syria in the second half of 2014.

Types of cluster munitions used in Syria since 2012

Type

Cluster munition name

Number of submunitions

Country produced

Bomb

RBK-250 PTAB-2.5M

42

USSR

RBK 250-275 AO-1SCh

150

USSR

RBK-500 AO-2.5RT/RTM

108

Russia/USSR

RBK-500 PTAB-1M

268

USSR

RBK-500 ShOAB-0.5

565

USSR

RBK-500 SPBE

15

Russia

Rocket

Uragan (9M27K-series)

30

Russia

Smerch (9M55K)

72

Russia

SAKR

56 or 72

Egypt

Missiles

9M79 Tochka with 9N123K warhead

50

Russia/USSR

Projectile

3-O-8

14

Russia/USSR

Dispenser

BKF AO-2.5RT

96

USSR

BKF PTAB-2.5KO

12

USSR

 

Use of the RBK-500 SPBE bombs and the 240mm 3-O-8 rocket-assisted mortar projectile was first documented in Syria after Russia entered into a joint operation with Syrian government forces on 30 September 2015 (see Use section below).

Use

From July 2012 until July 2016—a period of four years—at least 360 cluster munition attacks have been recorded in Syria.[4] Since mid-2012, Syrian government forces have used cluster munitions in multiple locations across 10 of the country’s 14 governorates.[5]

Cluster Munition Monitor 2014 reported at least 249 cluster munition attacks from July 2012 until July 2014. The frequency of reported use of cluster munitions decreased significantly in the second half of 2014 and first three-quarters of 2015.[6] It increased again when Russia began its joint operation with Syrian government forces and at least 76 attacks were recorded between 30 September 2015 and 20 July 2016.[7]

Use by joint Russia-Syria operation

Russia has denied using cluster munitions in Syria since beginning its joint military operation with Syrian government forces on 30 September 2015, but its response is unconvincing. There is growing evidence that Russia stockpiles cluster munitions at its airbase at Hmeymim, southeast of Latakia City in Syria. There is compelling evidence that Russia is using cluster munitions in Syria and/or directly participating with Syrian government forces in attacks using cluster munitions on opposition-held areas of governorates such as Aleppo, Homs, and Idlib, and on armed opposition groups.

Russia’s joint military operation with Syria has seen the first use of two more types of cluster munitions. Advanced air-dropped RBK-500 SPBE cluster bombs containing SPBE sensor fuzed submunitions have been used since October 2015 and ground-launched 3-O-8 cluster munition projectiles containing O-10 submunitions have been used since December 2015.[8]

A remarkable number of cluster munitions appear to have been used and failed, given the high numbers of unexploded AO-2.5RT/RTM and ShOAB-0.5 submunitions from RBK-series bombs recorded after attacks.

Several air-dropped RBK-series cluster munitions used since 30 September 2015 bear markings showing they were produced from 1989 into the early 1990s, particularly the RBK-500 SPBE cluster bombs, which appear to have been manufactured in 1990 and 1991. This appears to be a noticeable shift from before the Russian intervention, when production markings on the cluster bombs used in Syria showed they were produced in the 1970s and 1980s.[9]

The United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) have said that Russia is using cluster munitions in Syria, including in a 16 June 2016 attack on coalition-backed armed opposition forces near the Syrian al-Tanf border crossing with Iraq. Photographs released by the forces attacked show RBK-500 AO-2.5RT/RTM cluster munition remnants.[10] The US Department of Defense claimed that Russian forces conducted the attack.[11] In a statement, the Russian Ministry of Defense appeared to acknowledge responsibility for the attack, but did not address the reported use of cluster munitions.[12]

It is challenging to determine conclusively if Russian or Syrian government forces are responsible for individual attacks, as they use many of the same aircraft and weapons and frequently carry out offensives together. However, Russia is the only force in Syria to operate Sukhoi SU-25 and SU-34 fighter-ground attack jets used to deliver RBK-series cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and others have compiled credible evidence, including videos and photographs, documenting SU-25 and SU-34 near or involved in attacks near sites when cluster munitions were used.[13]

There has been no evidence to indicate that the US or its partners have used cluster munitions in the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition operation against the non-state armed group IS in Syria and Iraq that began in August 2014.[14] A spokesperson for the US Air Forces Central Command informed The Washington Post on 26 July 2016 that: “We have not employed cluster munitions in Operation Inherent Resolve. This includes both U.S. and coalition aircraft.”[15]

Earlier use of cluster munitions

Initial reports of the use of RBK-series air-dropped cluster bombs containing AO-1SCh and PTAB-2.5M bomblets emerged in mid-2012, when the government began its air campaign on rebel-held areas.[16] Its use of air-dropped cluster bombs has continued since then, including RBK-500 cluster bombs containing ShOAB-0.5 submunitions and AO-2.5RT and PTAB-2.5KO submunitions for which the delivery system still is not clear.[17]

Ground-launched cluster munitions have been used since the end of 2012, when government forces first used multi-barrel rocket launchers to deliver 122mm SAKR cluster munition rockets containing DPICM submunitions with distinctive white nylon stabilizing ribbons.[18] In early 2014, Syrian government forces began to use 9M55K and 9M27K-series surface-to-surface rockets containing 9N235 submunitions fitted with self-destruct mechanisms.[19] In July 2014, the first IS cluster munition use was documented during its advance on Ayn al-`Arab/Kobani, involving a DPICM-like submunition with a distinctive red ribbon called “ZP-39” by experts.[20]

There have been multiple examples of use of 9M79-series Tochka ballistic missiles, including in an attack on Al-Najeya village on 4 December 2015.

As the Syria conflict continues to spiral, it is not possible to determine with confidence if opposition groups other than IS have used cluster munitions. There is evidence that opposition forces have repurposed unexploded submunitions as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).[21] However, no opposition group operates aircraft and none have been seen in possession of the systems necessary to deliver ground-launched cluster munitions.[22]

Responses to the use of cluster munitions 

The Syrian military has denied possessing or using cluster munitions, but usually does not respond to or comment on new use of cluster munitions.[23] IS has not responded to its reported use of cluster munitions. In December 2015, the Russian Defence Ministry stated that “Russian aviation does not use [cluster munitions]” and that “there are no such munitions at the Russian air base in Syria.”[24]

The civilian harm caused by the use of cluster munitions in Syria has attracted widespread media coverage, public outcry, and condemnations from more than 140 states.[25] Of these countries, more than 40 have made national statements condemning the use in Syria, including by the foreign ministers of Convention on Cluster Munitions States Parties Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.[26] In February 2016, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern at the use of cluster munitions in Syria, which he said is “killing innocent women and children.”[27]

At the UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and Security in October 2015, several countries made statements expressing concern over the use of cluster munitions in Syria.[28] The CMC also condemned the continued use of cluster munitions in Syria.[29]

At the First Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in September 2015, States Parties adopted the Dubrovnik Declaration, which affirms: “We are deeply concerned by any and all allegations, reports or documented evidence of the use of cluster munitions, including in Cambodia, Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen. We condemn any use of cluster munitions by any actor.”[30] During the First Review Conference, 29 states condemned or expressed concern at ongoing use of cluster munitions, a dozen of which specifically mentioned cluster munition use in Syria.[31]

At the June 2015 intersessional meetings of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, more than two-dozen states condemned or expressed concern at new use of cluster munitions, half of which specifically condemned the continued use of cluster munitions in Syria.[32]

UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon has described “the carnage caused by cluster munitions in Syria” as “a direct violation” of international humanitarian law.[33] However, the UN Secretary-General’s statement to the First Review Conference in September 2015 failed to condemn cluster munition or express objection to any use.

States have adopted four UN General Assembly resolutions since May 2013 condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, including Resolution 70/234 adopted on 23 December 2015 by a vote of 104 states in favor, which deplored and condemned “in the strongest terms” the continued use of cluster munitions.[34]

Since April 2014, states have adopted seven Human Rights Council resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, including five since April 2015:

  • Resolution 32/25 adopted on 1 July 2016 by a vote of 27 states in favor, which “condemns the Syrian authorities’ use of…cluster munitions.”[35]
  • Resolution 31/17 adopted on 23 March 2016 by a vote of 27 states in favor, which “condemns the Syrian authorities’ use of…cluster munitions.”[36]
  • Resolution 30/10 adopted on 1 October 2015 by a vote of 29 states in favor, which “condemns the Syrian authorities’ use of…cluster munitions.”[37]
  • Resolution 29/16 adopted on 2 July 2015 by a vote of 29 states in favor, which “condemns the use by the Syrian authorities of…cluster munitions.”[38]
  • Resolution 28/20 adopted on 8 April 2015 by a vote of 29 states in favor, which “strongly condemns…the indiscriminate use of…cluster munitions…by the Syrian authorities against the Syrian population.”[39]

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which reports to the Human Rights Council, has reported on cluster munition use several times.[40]



[1] Statement of Syria, Convention on Cluster Munitions Second Meeting of States Parties, Beirut, 15 September 2011.

[2]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 70/54, 7 December 2015. It also abstained during the first round of voting on the draft resolution in UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security on 4 November 2015. “Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution AC.1/70/L.49/Rev.1, 4 November 2015.

[3] In 2004, Jane’s Information Group listed Syria as possessing some of the RBK-series air-dropped bombs as well as the KMGU dispensers, indicating that the stocks used after 2012 were not newly-acquired. Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 846.

[4] Since 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has researched and reported cluster munition use in Syria as part of its responsibility as chair of the CMC and ban policy editor for the campaign’s Cluster Munition Monitor reporting initiative. The information contained in this Monitor profile summarizes and updates information published in HRW reports, which in turn draw on reporting by local media and activists—including videos—and witness accounts. HRW generally only records cluster munition attacks if the attack and/or remnants were filmed to ensure visual confirmation and for which at least one other source has confirmed the use of cluster munitions. The actual number of attacks is probably much higher, as local activists reported many more incidents of what appear to be cluster munition use. This 2016 profile update draws on the newly-established Syrian Archive digital platform that collects, curates and verifies visual evidence of human rights violations. HRW has assisted the archive to identify from hundreds of videos cluster munitions used in attacks in Syria.

[5] As of July 2016, the Monitor has yet to see any evidence of cluster munition use in the governorates of Tartus, Quneitra, As-Suwayda, or Al-Hasakah.

[6] Video database searches have revealed evidence of a few dozen cluster munition attacks in the period. HRW documented IS use in July–August and an air-delivered cluster munition attack by Syrian government forces on Manbij on 21 August. HRW, “Syria: Evidence of Islamic State Cluster Munition Use,” 1 September 2014.

[7] There were at least 34 cluster munition attacks by the Russian-Syrian joint operation on opposition-controlled territory between 30 September 2015 and 8 February 2016. While it is possible that new use went unrecorded, just two cluster munition attacks were reported in March, April, and the first three weeks of May. Another 40 cluster munition attacks were recorded from 27 May–20 July 2016.

[9] Markings on the RBK-series air-dropped bombs and their submunitions, as well as a comparison with the Soviet manuals for the weapons, show the cluster munitions used in Syria until September 2015 were manufactured at Soviet state munitions factories in the 1970s and early 1980s.

[10] The New Syrian Army (@NSyA_Official), “Russians are lying with E-conference & more updates on our FB page. http://facebook.com/The.NSAy.Official/posts/255901281444601 …#NSyA #RuAF #لسنا_وحدنا,” 19 June 2016, 1:18pm. Tweet.

[13] Amnesty International, “Syria: Russia’s shameful failure to acknowledge civilian killings,” 23 December 2015; and HRW, “Russia/Syria: Daily Cluster Munition Attacks,” 8 February 2016.

[14] In September 2015, the US Department of Defense listed eight Operation Inherent Resolve coalition members conducting US-led airstrikes in Iraq: Convention on Cluster Munitions non-signatory Jordan and States Parties Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, and the UK. It listed nine coalition nations participating in US-led airstrikes in Syria: Convention on Cluster Munitions non-signatories Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and UAE, as well as States Parties Australia, Canada, and France. Department of Defense, “Airstrikes Hit ISIL Terrorists in Syria, Iraq,” 30 September 2015.

[15] Email from Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Writer, The Washington Post, 27 July 2016. See also, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Despite denial, ‘growing evidence’ Russia is using cluster bombs in Syria, report says,” The Washington Post, 28 July 2016.

[16] The 250-kilogram class RBK-series cluster bombs can be delivered by jet aircraft as well as rotary wing aircraft, such as Mi-24 and Mi-8 series helicopters. Brown Moses Blog, “Evidence of cluster bombs being deployed in Syria,” 10 July 2012; and HRW Press Release, “Syria: Evidence of Cluster Munitions Use by Syrian Forces,” 12 July 2012.

[17] AO-2.5RT and PTAB-2.5KO submunitions are capable of being loaded into BKF cartridges and dispersed by KMG-U dispensers. The AO-2.5RT submunition can also be delivered by the RBK-500 cluster bomb.

[18] It is not known if the 122mm rockets are SAKR-18 or SAKR-36 variants, which contain 72 and 98 submunitions respectively. The design of the fuze system in this type of submunition makes it very sensitive and submunitions that fail to explode on initial impact are liable to detonate if disturbed. HRW Press Release, “Syria: Army Using New Type of Cluster Munition,” 14 January 2013.

[19] Armament Research Services, “9M27K Series Cargo Rockets in Syria,” 22 February 2014. HRW attributed responsibility for the use to Syrian government forces, stating, “It is highly unlikely that rebel forces could acquire the eight-wheeled, 43,700 kilogram launch vehicle or operate its sophisticated fire control system without significant training or time to conduct practice drills. There is no video evidence or written claims that any rebel group controls any BM-30 launchers, its similarly sized re-supply vehicle, or any 300mm surface-to-surface rockets like the 9M55K rocket.” HRW Press Release, “Syria: New Deadly Cluster Munition Attacks,” 19 February 2014.

[20] HRW, “Syria: Evidence of Islamic State Cluster Munition Use,” 1 September 2014. Markings on some of the submunitions indicate they were manufactured in 1993. Brown Moses Blog, “The markings on what’s assumed to be a Sakr submunition suggests the designation is ZP39, made in 1993,” 4 April 2014.

[21] A video uploaded to YouTube on 26 March 2014 reportedly of arms captured by government forces from rebel groups shows submunitions prepared for use as IEDs.

[23] According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), “the General Command of the Army and the Armed Forces stressed on [15 October 2012] that the misleading media outlets have recently published untrue news claiming the Syrian Arab Army has been using cluster bombs against terrorists.” According to SANA, “the General [in] Command said the Syrian Army does not possess such bombs.” “Syria denies using cluster bombs,” CNN, 16 October 2012. In March 2013, Syrian diplomatic representatives denied the evidence of Syrian cluster bomb use. Letter from Firas al Rashidi, Charge d’affair ad interim, Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic to Japan, to the Japanese Campaign to Ban Landmines, 7 March 2013.

[24] Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, “Russian Defence Ministry commented on briefing of Amnesty International,” 23 December 2015.

[25] A total of 143 countries have condemned the use of cluster munitions in Syria via national statements and/or by endorsing resolutions or joint statements. They include 93 States Parties and signatories (Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovia (BiH), Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia FYR, Madagascar, Malawi, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, the UK, and Uruguay) and 51 non-signatories (Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Dominica, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Kiribati, South Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, the US, Vanuatu, and Yemen).

[26] National statements condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria have been made by Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mauritania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, Qatar, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Togo, Turkey, and the US.

[27] US Department of State, “Remarks by Secretary Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry,” YouTube.com, 9 February 2016.

[28] Costa Rica, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal.

[29] Statement of the CMC, UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and Security, October 2015.

[30]The Dubrovnik declaration 2015: Spectemur agendo (judged by our actions),” annexed to the Final Report of the First Review Conference of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, CCM/CONF/2015/7, 13 October 2015.

[31] Bosnia and Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, and Zambia.

[32] Austria, Belgium, Burundi, Canada, Croatia, Ecuador, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway.

[33] Statement by the UN Secretary General, Convention on Cluster Munitions Fifth Meeting of State Parties, San José, 3 September 2014; and statement by the UN Secretary-General, Convention on Cluster Munitions First Review Conference, Dubrovnik, 7 September 2015.

[34]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution 70/234, 23 December 2015.

[35] This resolution vote is not reflected in ban country profiles for Cluster Munition Monitor 2016 as it occurred after the reporting period deadline of 30 June 2016. “The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Human Rights Council Resolution 32/25, 1 July 2016.

[36]The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Human Rights Council Resolution 31/17, 23 March 2016.

[39]The continuing grave deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UN Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/28/20, 8 April 2015.

[40] “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” UN Human Rights Council Report, 28/69, 5 February 2015.

Mine Ban Policy

Last updated: 06 December 2016

Policy

The Syrian Arab Republic has not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty.

Syria has articulated the same position on the ban treaty for years without change: it is concerned with the plight of mine victims, but views antipersonnel mines as necessary weapons as shown by its use of the weapons since 2011. Syria also considers Israel’s continued annexation/occupation of part of the Golan Heights as a key reason for not joining the treaty.[1]

Syria last participated as an observer in a Mine Ban Treaty meeting in 2006.[2] It has rarely made any public statements on its landmine policy or participated in treaty meetings as an observer.

Since 1996, Syria has abstained from voting on every annual pro-ban UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on landmines, including UNGA Resolution 70/50 on 7 December 2015.

Syria is not party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions or the Convention on Conventional Weapons. It acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September 2013.

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Syria is not known to have produced or exported antipersonnel mines.

The size and origin of Syria’s mine stockpile is not known, but it is believed to be significant and comprised mainly of Soviet/Russian-manufactured mines including PMN-2 and OZM-72 antipersonnel mines and TMN-46 and TM-62 antivehicle mines. Photographs and a video posted online by the Syrian Center for Demining Rehabilitation on 28 September 2015 and allegedly filmed west of Daraa in southern Syria show up to 20 PMN-4 antipersonnel mines being removed from the ground.[3] This is the first evidence of use of the PMN-4 in the Syria conflict, but it is unclear who laid them or when. Markings on the mines indicates they were manufactured in Russia in 1995.

Use

Prior to the current armed conflict that began in 2011, Syria was last believed to have used landmines in 1982 during the conflict with Israel in Lebanon. Little was known about the extent of its landmine problem, but the most significantly mined areas were in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights, in the southwest of the country, in addition to its borders.

In late 2011, the first reports emerged of Syrian government use of antipersonnel mines in the country’s border areas.[4] A Syrian official acknowledged the government had “undertaken many measures to control the borders, including planting mines.”[5]

In 2016, reports of mine use by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and Syrian government forces increased. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reported several incidents from mines that IS fighters likely laid as the group controlled the territory for prolonged periods of time. For example, in Aleppo governorate alone, SNHR reported civilian casualties in August, September, and October 2016 from landmines that IS apparently laid in the villages of Najm;[6] Abu Qalqal;[7] Al Humar;[8] and Al Dadat.[9]

In January 2016, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres, MSF) reported that Syrian government forces laid landmines around the town of Madaya in Rif Dimashq governorate, some 10 kilometers from the Lebanon border. According to MSF, civilians trying to flee the city have been killed and injured by “bullets and landmines.”[10] In October 2016, residents of Madaya claimed that the Lebanese armed group, Hezbollah, operating together with government forces laid mines around the town. A medical group and a media organization reported that “operating thave been laid around the edge of the town.[11]

In March 2016, Syrian government forces in the city of Palmyra reported that they were finding landmines planted by IS fighters.[12]

During a five-day investigation in Manbij in early October 2016, Human Rights Watch collected the names of 69 civilians, including 19 children, killed by improvised mines, including booby-traps, laid in schools, homes, and on roads during and after the fighting over control for the city, involving IS and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a coalition of Kurdish, Arab, and other forces supported by the United States government.[13] Nearly all the incidents documented by Human Rights Watch appeared to have been caused by victim-activated improvised explosive devices, rather than by explosives detonated by a vehicle or by remote-control.



[1] Telephone interview with Milad Atieh, Director, Department of International Organizations and Conventions, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 29 January 2008; and interview with Mohd Haj Khaleel, Department of International Organizations and Conventions, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Damascus, 25 February 2007. See also, statement of Syria, Seminar on Military and Humanitarian Issues Surrounding the Mine Ban Treaty, Amman, 19–21 April 2004.

[2] A Geneva-based Syrian diplomat attended as an observer the Seventh Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in September 2006.

[3] “28 9 2015 أزالة الألغام التي زرعتها قوات النظام في الحي الشرقي بمدينة بريف درعا,” video clip, YouTube, posted on 28 September 2015, https://youtu.be/-gXJIy3Et0k. See also Conflict Armament Research, “Russian PMN-4 anti-personnel landmines in Syria,” 1 October 2015.

[4] ICBL Press Release, “ICBL publicly condemns reports of Syrian forces laying mines,” 2 November 2011.

[5]Assad troops plant land mines on Syria-Lebanon border,” The Associated Press,1 November 2011.

[10] MSF, “Syria: Siege and Starvation in Madaya,” Brussels, 7 January 2016.

[11] See, “Injured by one of 8,000 landmines in desperate escape bid, Madaya man faces double amputation,” Syria Direct, 5 October 2016; “Madaya: Starvation Under Siege,” Syrian American Medical Association, January 2016, p. 1; and Monitor email interview with Kristen Gillespie Demilio, Editor-in-Chief, Syria Direct, 7 October 2016.

[12] Raf Sanchez, “Syrian regime troops struggle to clear explosive booby traps in Palmyra,” The Telegraph, 28 March 2016.

[13] Human Rights Watch Press Release, “Syria: Improvised Mines Kill, Injure Hundreds in Manbij,” 26 October 2016.

Mine Action

Last updated: 25 November 2016

Recommendations for action 

  • The Syrian Arab Republic should initiate survey and clearance of mines and cluster munition remnants as soon as possible and take other measures to protect civilians from explosive remnants of war (ERW).

Mine Contamination

Mine contamination in Syria is a legacy of Arab-Israeli wars since 1948 and a consequence of the ongoing armed conflicts. No credible estimate of the extent of contamination across Syria exists, although one Handicap International demining expert suggested it would require an “unprecedented clearance operation” and would “probably take more than 30 years to eliminate the risk entirely.”[1]

There has been continued use of mines by pro- and anti-government forces across the country. Turkish authorities have reportedly claimed that between 613,000 and 715,000 mines had been planted along the Turkish-Syrian border, making clear they were not emplaced by Turkish forces.[2] At the end of January 2016, United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the Syrian government for laying mines around Madaya and other besieged towns in Syria.[3] Soviet/Russian-made PMN-4 antipersonnel mines have been cleared from Madaya. Syrian government use of these mines was first reported in 2012.[4]

In Kobani and the surrounding villages, which were captured from so-called Islamic State (IS) forces in 2015, humanitarian demining operators found a significant quantity of improvised antipersonnel mines.[5] To the east, IS are said to have surrounded government-controlled areas in the city of Deir ez-Zor with thousands of landmines. According to one witness from Deir ez-Zor’s besieged al-Jura neighborhood who was cited in the media in March 2016, “After a year of living under siege, some inhabitants tried to flee driven by famine and disease. They were either killed by ISIS sharpshooters or exploding mines. Some torn corpses are still lying in the minefields.”[6] Mine casualties are reported to have occurred in areas of Hassakeh province in the far northeast contested by IS and Kurdish forces.[7]

Remotely delivered T-84 antivehicle mines were reportedly used in the Golan Heights in the southwest of Syria (already heavily contaminated with antipersonnel mines).[8] (For further details see the Mine Ban country profile and the Casualty and Victim Assistance country profile.)

Cluster Munition Contamination 

Cluster munition contamination in Syria is the consequence of ongoing armed conflicts since 2012. Syrian government forces have used cluster munitions extensively in the four-year-old conflict while IS has reportedly used them in a number of instances, but the extent of contamination is not known.

In 2014, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that it had identified 224 separate locations in 10 of Syria’s 14 governorates that had been attacked with cluster munitions by the Syrian government, many of them more than once.[9] Use continued in 2015 and 2016. Between 30 September (when Syria and Russia began a joint military offensive) and 14 December 2015, cluster munitions were reportedly used on at least 20 occasions. At least 35 civilians, including five women and 17 children, were killed, and dozens more were injured by cluster munitions, according to a report by HRW.[10] In January and February 2016, the Syrian-Russian joint military operation included use of cluster bombs in at least 14 attacks that killed or injured dozens of civilians.[11] (For further details see the Cluster Munition Ban country profile and the Casualty and Victim Assistance country profile.)

Other ERW

According to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), contamination from the armed conflicts include landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), artisanal mines—some of which are connected to booby traps, and other ERW.[12] In Kobani, an April 2015 assessment by Handicap International found that the level of weapons contamination in the city center was extremely high: an average of 10 pieces of munitions per square meter.[13]

Program Management

There is no national mine action program in Syria, no national mine action authority, and no mine action center. 

On the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2165 (2014), UNMAS was asked to provide assistance for mine action in Syria. UNMAS deployed a team to southern Turkey in August 2015. In addition to coordinating mine action operations, UNMAS has supported direct implementation of survey and clearance activities.[14] Although a “comprehensive clearance program is not currently possible, UNMAS believes it is possible to train local capacity to survey and clear cluster munitions and other ERW.” UNMAS was planning to initiate training and mentoring for national organizations in 2016 to address specific explosive hazards.[15]

Operators

International NGO demining operators in Syria in 2015 included Handicap International and Mines Advisory Group.

Land Release

Syria does not have a comprehensive civilian program for survey or clearance of mines. UNMAS reported in early 2016 that conflict in many governorates has prevented access by mine action organizations. The extent and impact of contamination has resulted in Syrians without formal training conducting “ad hoc clearance without the technical ability to do so. The capacity of some local teams conducting clearance has been reduced by half as a result of casualties occurring during operations.”[16]

Russian deminers arrived in Syria in March 2016. In April, the Russian military reported completing demining of the ancient part of the city of Palmyra, recaptured by Syrian and Russian forces in late March from IS militants.[17]

  

The Monitor gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the Mine Action Review supported and published by Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), which conducted mine action research in 2016 and shared it with the Monitor. The Monitor is responsible for the findings presented online and in its print publications.



[1] E. Sauvage, “30+ Years Needed to Clear Syria of Explosive Remnants of War,” Handicap International USA, 2016.

[2]Thousands of landmines planted along Turkish-Syrian border,” Middle East Monitor, 21 November 2013.

[3] US Campaign to Ban Landmines, “Presidential support for Colombia’s mine clearance,” 6 February 2016.

[4] Human Rights Watch, “Syria: Army Planting Banned Landmines,” 13 March 2012.

[5] Handicap International, “Kobani: A city of rubble and unexploded devices,” Factsheet, May 2015, pp. 3–5.

[6] A. Ramadan, “Land mines, the silent killers in Syria war,” Arab Weekly, 18 March 2016.

[7]Landmines kill 8 in Hama and al-Hassakah,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 2 May 2015.

[8] M. Hiznay, “Remotely delivered antivehicle mines spotted in Syria,” Human Rights Watch, 25 April 2014.

[9] Human Rights Watch, “Technical Briefing Note: Use of cluster munitions in Syria,” 4 April 2014. The governorates were Aleppo, Damascus City and Rural Damascus, Daraa, Deir al-Zour, Hama, Homs, Idlib, Latakia, and Raqqa.

[11] CMC, “The injured were mostly women and children,” 8 February 2016.

[12] UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” last updated March 2016.

[13] Handicap International, “Kobani: A city of rubble and unexploded devices,” Factsheet, May 2015.

[14] UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” last updated March 2016.

[15] Ibid.

[16] UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” last updated March 2016; see also, J. Schipper, “Syrian volunteers risk lives to clear landmines,” Al Jazeera, 8 April 2016.

Support for Mine Action

Last updated: 09 October 2015

The Syrian Arab Republic is contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including cluster munition remnants, a legacy of Arab-Israeli wars since 1948 and the ongoing armed conflict. The fighting has involved extensive use of indiscriminate weapons, which cause both immediate and long-term damage as they result in high levels of ERW contamination.[1] The Syrian conflict has been marked by a severe lack of access to affected populations, including mine action activities.

In 2014, four donors reported contributing US$1,366,000 to risk education and capacity-building activities in Syria, 60% less than in 2013 when international funding totaled $3,618,767.

In 2012, UNMAS reported that it received US$1.4 million from the UN Supervision Mission in Syria for initial operations in Syria. Also in 2012, Sweden contributed SEK7.26 million ($1.07 million)[2] to the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) to provide three technical experts to support emergency operations planning and training with UNMAS.[3]

International contributions: 2014[4]

Donor

Sector

Amount

(national currency)

Amount

($)

Netherlands

Risk education

€570,000

757,929

Norway

Capacity-building

NOK1,987,000

315,552

Luxembourg

Risk education

€170,000

226,049

Slovenia

Risk education

$66,470

66,470

Total

 

 

1,366,000

 



[1] Global Protection Cluster, “Syria Situation Update,” 20 February 2013; and UNMAS, “Syria,” last updated February 2015.

[2] Sweden, Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report, Form J, 27 March 2013. Average exchange rate for 2012: SEK6.7721=US$1. US Federal Reserve, “List of Exchange Rates (Annual),” 2 January 2015.

[3] UNMAS, “UNMAS 2012 Annual Report,” p. 9; and “MSB operations as a result of the conflict in Syria,” MSB International Operations Magazine, June 2013, p. 11.

[4] Average exchange rate for 2014: €1=US$1.3297; NOK6.2969=US$1. US Federal Reserve, “List of Exchange Rates (Annual),” 2 January 2015.

Casualties and Victim Assistance

Last updated: 09 October 2016

Casualties Overview

All known casualties by end 2015

1,955 mine/explosive remnants of war (ERW) casualties (846 killed; 1,097 injured; 12 unknown)

Casualties in 2015

864 (2014: 174)

2015 casualties by outcome

290 killed; 574 injured (2014: 161 killed; 13 injured)

2015 casualties by item type

719 unspecified mine types including victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs); 17 antipersonnel mine; 68 antivehicle mine; 16 victim-activated IED; 17 unexploded submunition; 26 unknown device; and 1 other ERW

Cluster munition casualties since 2012

There were at least 248 cluster munitions casualties in 2015, 383 in 2014, 1001 in 2013 and 583 in 2012
(see below for more details on these cluster munition casualties, including those occurring during attacks, which are not included in other mine/ERW casualty totals)

 

In 2015, the Monitor recorded 864 casualties (290 killed, 574 injured) attributed to mines, unexploded submunitions, and other ERW (mines/ERW) in Syria from multiple data sources. Of the total casualties, where reported, 100 were children, 133 were women and the majority, 569, were men.[1] However, since the conflict began in 2011, annual totals of mine/ERW casualties are thought to be an undercount. It is expected that the actual number of casualties in Syria in 2015, as in past years, was significantly higher than that recorded. Media reports indicated that there were over 300 casualties from landmines (100 killed; 200 injured) in the city of Kobane alone between January 2015 and April 2016.[2]

Overall, the intensity of the ongoing conflict and widespread persecution of human rights activists severely hampered civil society efforts to track casualties.[3] For example, in October 2015, the Violation Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) reported the death of one media activist who was contributing to the report and the destruction of another field researcher’s family home during airstrikes.[4]

Detailed data on fatalities was collected and disaggregated according to the weapons involved by the VDC and the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). The SNHR also documented a number of people injured by cluster munitions, when that information was available.[5] The majority of mine/ERW casualties for 2015 (551) were persons injured, compiled and recorded as casualties of unspecified mines by Handicap International (HI) in data on the needs of conflict survivors.[6] This marked the first time since the beginning of the conflict that a substantial dataset on persons injured by mines/ERW in Syria was available.[7] HI reported that of some 25,000 people from Syria with injuries it assessed, 53% were of injured by explosive weapons, of which 14% were mine survivors.[8]

The 864 mine/ERW casualties recorded in 2015 represent a significant increase from the 174 casualties (123 killed; 51 injured) by mines/ERW reported for 2014.[9] However, this is not representative of a trend. The data available for 2014 was mostly for fatalities, making it certain that persons injured were massively unreported. Persons injured were also severely underreported in 2013 and 2012. Since conflict began in 2011, the numbers of casualties identified annually in Syria increased significantly from previous years. In 2010, no casualties were identified in Syria, and in 2009, a single antivehicle mine casualty was reported.[10]

The year 2015 saw an intense escalation in casualties from mines/ERW, including victim-activated IEDs, especially in areas liberated from Islamic State (IS, also called Daesh). In May 2015, HI estimated that there had been five to seven mine/ERW incidents weekly resulting in casualties.[11] Particularly high casualty rates among returnees and especially among the locally formed explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) teams were reported.

In the Monitor casualty data for Syria for 2015, the deaths of at least 16 people due to mines were recorded as specifically related to entering or leaving besieged areas.[12] It was reportedly that there was an increase in the use of “landmines” to surround besieged areas of the Damascus suburbs in 2015, preventing civilians from leaving those areas and from bringing food and supplies into the besieged towns. This resulted in a number of casualties and exacerbated the suffering and starvation of the civilian population.[13] According to a media report from 1 January 2016, 15 men and six children had lost limbs due to the landmines surrounding the besieged town of Madaya alone.[14] Civilians continued to become casualties of the siege minefields into 2016. In April, three boys died of landmine-inflicted injures. The siege minefields also prevented access to emergency medical assistance for those people injured.[15]

The total number of mine/ERW casualties recorded in Syria between 1967 and the end of 2015 was at least 1,955 mine/explosive remnants of war (ERW) casualties (846 killed; 1,097 injured; 12 unknown).[16] Due to the absence of a national casualty data collection mechanism, it is probable that there were also unrecorded casualties before the beginning of internal armed conflict in 2011.

Cluster munition casualties

In 2015, the Monitor compiled data on least 248 cluster munition casualties, both from attacks (the direct use of cluster munitions in air strikes and shelling) and unexploded submunitions, including 92 people killed. Of this total, 231 casualties occurred during cluster munition attacks: 75 people—all civilians—were killed and another 156 people injured. In addition, 17 people were recorded as killed by unexploded submunitions. Due to key disaggregated data sources specifically recording fatalities but not injuries, no casualties injured by unexploded submunitions were identified for 2015, although it is likely that some persons recorded as injured by explosive remnants of war (ERW) and undefined mines types were actually unexploded submunition casualties.[17]

An additional 54 fatalities reported by the Violation Documentation Center (VDC) were attributed to the use of cluster munitions alongside other weapons, including thermobaric weapons. These casualties were not counted in the Monitor total of cluster munition casualties for 2015 because they did not exclusively identify the cause of fatality as cluster munitions.

The actual number of casualties due to cluster munition attacks and unexploded submunitions is likely much higher than those recorded. In 2015, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) confirmed that it believed the number of cluster munition casualties, including persons injured, was far greater than what they had been able to report, noting that “the Syrian regime relies greatly on using cluster munitions during shelling.”[18] A representative of the VDC stated that the figures on their website are far less than those caused by the actual use of cluster munitions and that this is “due to the hardship of collecting data inside of the different geographic [areas] in Syria and the pursuit of human rights activists by all military parties.”[19]

Collection of data was ongoing and efforts to gather details on casualties were hampered by the intensity of the continuing conflict.[20] Both the SNHR and the VDC confirmed that difficulties persisted throughout 2015.[21] The SNHR reporting includes several detailed accounts of cluster munition use.[22]

For 2014, the Monitor reported 383 cluster munition casualties in Syria; at least 135 people were recorded as killed and some 248 people injured. Of these casualties, 329 (94 killed, 235 injured) were caused by cluster munition attacks; 51 casualties (38 killed; 13 injured) were recorded from incidents involving unexploded submunitions (including six people attempting to clear unexploded submunitions); and three fatalities were recorded as cluster munition casualties, without further details on use.[23] The Monitor received reports of at least 1,001 cluster munition casualties in 2013, including 151 killed.[24] In 2012, according to data from VDC and SNHR there were at least 583 cluster munitions casualties,[25] 113 people were reported as killed (including four due to unexploded submunitions) and some 470 people injured by cluster munitions.[26]

Cluster munition casualties continued to be reported into 2016. Preliminary Monitor analysis of reporting sources for the period from 1 January 2016 until the end of May 2016 indicated that there were at least some 270 cluster munition casualties during that period. Proportionally, a significant increase from the number and rate of cluster munition casualties recorded during 2015.[27]

Prior to new use of cluster munitions in 2012, at least five casualties from unexploded submunitions had been recorded in Syria, including four child casualties in 2007.[28]

Victim Assistance

There is no current estimate of the total number of survivors of mines, cluster munitions, and other ERW (mines/ERW) living in Syria. In March 2015, Handicap International (HI) estimated that at least one million people have been injured during the conflict, with tens of thousands needing prosthetics and rehabilitation services.[29]

Insecurity and conflict in Syria affected access to essential medical interventions and medical equipment. Emergency response and first aid was limited by the ongoing conflict. The Syrian Civil Defense organization, known as the White Helmets, provided search and rescue, first aid, and ambulance services in many areas affected by cluster munition strikes. This emergency assistance was often hindered by so-called double-tap strikes, whereby rescuers are targeted by a second airstrike.[30]

Throughout 2015 and into 2016, it became increasingly difficult for Syrians to cross the border to Turkey, including war-injured persons hoping receive medical care there.[31]

There were severe shortages of medicine and medical supplies, as well as the inability of many health workers to access their workplaces. These difficulties were exacerbated by overall disruptions to the health system. A lack of fuel, cuts in electricity, and water shortages forced many hospitals to operate at reduced capacity or cease operations altogether.[32] A continuously growing number of patients also strained the limited health resources available.[33]

Mine/ERW survivors in besieged areas were unable to access medical care due to a lack of medical supplies, personnel, and facilities. The UN reported that on the rare occasions that humanitarian aid reached besieged areas in 2015 and into 2016, surgical and trauma care equipment and other medical supplies needed for treatment of mine/ERW injuries had been removed from the aid convoys.[34] Medical evacuation from besieged areas was extremely limited. It was reported that civilians, including children injured by mines/ERW, were prevented from being evacuated out of besieged areas.[35]

Medical personnel and hospitals were deliberately targeted and access to medical services was denied. Increasing bombing and shelling of hospitals and clinics further reduced the provision of basic assistance to injured persons.[36] Physicians for Human Rights reports that 2015 was the worst year for bombing and shelling of medical facilities with 122 strikes documented. The organization documented 346 strikes on 246 different medical facilities from March 2011 until December 2015. In addition, at least 700 medical personnel have been killed and many more have fled since the conflict began.[37] In 2015, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) recorded 94 instances of bombing or shelling of MSF-supported health facilities, including 12 instances that completely destroyed the medical facility and another 16 attacks on MSF-supported ambulances.[38] At the end of 2014, only two hospitals and one referral center that provide specialized mental health services remained operational.[39]

The ICRC reported that health ministry hospitals and other health facilities, particularly the National Red Crescent Society’s mobile health units, provided emergency medical care, inpatient treatment, and primary healthcare to injured people using ICRC-donated medical supplies. The ICRC provided 12 prostheses to mine/ERW survivors in Syria in 2015 and the National Society helped distribute over one thousand wheelchairs and two thousand pairs of crutches. To support persons with disabilities, an ICRC-managed rehabilitation center opened in Aleppo; it provided services to almost one thousand people from June to December 2015.[40] However, supplies and support for casualty care reached areas under the control of armed groups only on a small number of occasions because of Syrian government restrictions as well the constant insecurity due to the conflict. The ICRC, the Syrian Red Crescent, and the UN evacuated hundreds of wounded people from besieged areas in December 2015, including some injured by mines/ERW. Four besieged areas received medical supplies in October 2015.[41]

Humanitarian organizations continued to support medical care and rehabilitation services throughout Syria. HI carried out some activities in Syria, in addition to supporting at least a dozen Syrian organizations and partners, to provide services directly to persons with disabilities, including mine/ERW survivors, or to make referrals to other services.[42] HI’s Emergency Division has been implementing an emergency intervention in northern Syria, which addresses the needs of persons with injuries and/or disabilities from December 2012 through into 2016. By early 2016, HI was reported to be the only organization to address those needs through community outreach. HI’s physical rehabilitation activities in northern Syria started in January 2013 and continued in 2016.[43] Continuing into 2016, HI’s Syria program addressed the situation of the most vulnerable persons (including people with injuries) with interventions including: identification of persons with injuries and/or disabilities at hospitals, in care houses, camps, and communities; provision of rehabilitation for persons with injuries and/or disabilities and their caregiver (including training and counselling), distribution of assistive and mobility devices, and the provision of prostheses; and the direct provision of psychosocial support sessions at HI Rehabilitation centers and camps as well as at the community level.[44] HI noted “a patent lack of immediate rehabilitation and psychosocial relief,” despite the rising number of conflict-injured people within Syria and those fleeing to neighboring countries.[45] A HI assessment of 361 people injured due to explosive weapons between April 2015 and March 2016 found that 80% had indications of psychological distress. HI offered psychosocial support to Syrians affected by the conflict, including individual counselling and support groups.[46] Vulnerable families were also provided in-kind or financial assistance.[47]

MSF supported some 40 health facilities in the Damascus region and supported around 45 facilities in northern and western Syria during 2015. These services are often the primary emergency care available for mine/ERW or cluster munition casualties. Due to attacks on these health facilities, the number of supported facilities varied month-by-month as they were forced to close or stop services for a period to relocate.[48] 

Assistance to Syrian refugees

Several international organizations provided assistance to Syrian refugees, including mine survivors and other weapon-wounded people, in multiple host countries.

In Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, HI teams supplied aid to injured refugees, persons with disabilities, and vulnerable persons, including by providing orthopedic devices and psychosocial support, supporting medical and rehabilitation facilities and helping them access services.[49]

The influx of refugees from Syria into Lebanon put an increasing strain on scarce local resources. International assistance was “relatively insignificant compared to the size of the crisis.”[50] In 2015, the ICRC continued to provide emergency medical care to weapon-wounded people from Syria, including post-operative care and physical rehabilitation. A few were fitted with assistive devices.[51] Socio-economic integration programs are limited, with many displaced survivors and other persons with disabilities relying on the support of family members, friends, and acquaintances.[52]

In Jordan, the wounded from Syria were taken to nearby hospitals immediately upon arrival. The costs of medical care are sometimes covered by UN and humanitarian organizations.[53] In 2015, MSF opened its upgraded reconstructive surgery hospital in Amman, Jordan. The hospital provides comprehensive medical care to war-injured persons including Syrians. In addition to specialized surgical services, the hospital offers physiotherapy and psychosocial support.[54]

Turkey provided emergency medical care for Syrians but costs involving physical rehabilitation, mobility aids, and plastic surgery are not covered so refugees have to rely on donors and humanitarian organizations. Turkey reported 70,000 surgical operations for Syrian refugees in the public health system during the first six months of 2015.[55] In the refugee camps near Suruç, mine survivors could receive medical assistance from volunteer healthcare workers, but there were only two ambulances and both were also used for transporting goods.[56] Turkey received around 2,500 injured Syrians (including landmine, cluster munition, and ERW survivors) a month in 2014.[57] The World Health Organization, Gaziantep University, and the Turkish Ministry of Health started the Refugee Doctor Adaptation Training for 25 Syrian refugee doctors in 2014 to help integrate Syrian medical professionals into the Turkish health system and provide services to Syrians. The curriculum expanded to train more than 200 doctors and nurses.[58]

Media reports indicated that there are many persons with disabilities, including war-injured persons such as landmine and cluster munition survivors, among refugees that travelled through Europe in 2015. There is no information on how many persons with disabilities or landmine survivors were among the refugees. There appeared to be a lack of even basic services to refugees with disabilities seeking safety.[59] For example, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern that in Greece “refugees have to find themselves a place to sleep in the few shelters available creating conditions for the ‘strongest’ to find a shelter to the detriment of persons with specific needs.”[60] Difficulties in accessing basic necessities including sanitation services for refugees with disabilities continued into 2016.[61]

Syria ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 10 July 2009. In September 2013, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities made a statement with regard to Syria’s need to fulfill its obligations under the CRPD while calling for humanitarian agencies to be “allowed to operate without restrictions throughout Syria” to assist persons with disabilities, including “persons with disabilities among refugees and the internally displaced.”[62] From 2013 and continuing into 2016, HI was implementing a project to train Syrian refugees with disabilities to advocate for their rights in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.[63]



[1] All data for 2015 is derived from casualty data from the Violation Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) database; casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, Director, Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), 8 June 2016; Monitor analysis of casualty data from Regional Emergency Response Office on the Syrian Crisis – Handicap International (HI), 27 May 2016; Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), “Anti-Vehicle Mine Incidents Map,” undated; and Monitor media scanning 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2015. The data sets and the casualties included in the reports were analyzed by the Monitor and duplicate casualty data removed to create a unique data set.

[2] Sirwan Kajjo, “IS leaves deadly trail of mines in Syria, Iraq,” VOA News, 16 April 2016.

[3] Emails from Amir Kazkaz, VDC, 8 March 2015; and from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 26 July 2015; and call with Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 11 February 2016.

[5] SNHR, “The Syrian Regime’s Cluster Munition Attacks in 2014,” 18 October 2014; and SNHR, “Four Years Harvest: The Use of Cluster Ammunition…That is Still Going,” 30 March 2015; email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 25 July 2014; and casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 8 June 2016.

[6] Casualty data from Regional Emergency Response Office on the Syrian Crisis – HI, 27 May 2016.

[7] Data on injured persons was collected by HI and partners through interviews with displaced people and refugees in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon between June 2013 and December 2015. The reporting is based on interviews with 68,049 people assessed by HI teams, of which 25,097 were injured: 14,471 in Syria, 7,823 in Jordan, and 2,803 in Lebanon. See, HI factsheet, “Syria: A mutilated future,” Brussels, 20 June 2016, pp. 1–2; and HI, “New Report: Syrians Maimed and Traumatized by Explosive Weapons,” 20 June 2016.

[8] Data on injured persons was collected by HI and partners through interviews with displaced people and refugees in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon between June 2013 and December 2015. The reporting is based on interviews with 68,049 people assessed by HI teams, of which 25,097 were injured: 14,471 in Syria, 7,823 in Jordan, and 2,803 in Lebanon. See, HI factsheet, “Syria: A mutilated future,” Brussels, 20 June 2016, pp. 1–2; and HI, “New Report: Syrians Maimed and Traumatized by Explosive Weapons,” 20 June 2016.

[9] All data for 2014 is derived from casualty data from the VDC database; SNHR, “The Syrian Regime’s Cluster Munition Attacks in 2014,” 18 October 2014; casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 28 April 2014; SNHR, “Four Years Harvest: The Use of Cluster Ammunition…That is Still Going,” 30 March 2015; and email from Amir Kazkaz, Database Management Division, VDC, 14 April 2014. The two data sets and the casualties included in the reports were analyzed by the Monitor and duplicate casualty data removed to create a unique data set. Email from Amir Kazkaz, VDC, 14 April 2014.

[10] Email from Dr. Hosam Doughouz, Health Officer, Quneitra Health Directorate, 12 May 2010.

[12] Data on casualties related to besieged areas came from the VDC database’s detailed notes on each fatality.

[13] Syrian American Medical Society, “Madaya: Starvation Under Siege,” 8 January 2016, p. 1; and Olivia Alabaster, “Survival in Madaya: ‘We are living on water and salt’,” Al Jazeera, 8 January 2016.

[15] Samuel Oakford and Avi Asher-Schapiro, “Pawns in Syria’s Ceasefire, Three Boys Die in Landmine Explosion,” Vice News, 1 April 2016.

[16]Citizen Injured from Israel Left-over Mine Explosion in Quneitra,” SANA (Quneitra), 6 May 2011. In the article, Omar al-Heibi, head of the board of the General Association for Rehabilitation of Mine-caused Injuries, states that there have been a total of 660 mine casualties (220 killed; 440 injured) as of May 2011, including a man injured in 2011.

[17] Cluster munition casualty data for 2015 is derived from casualty data from the Violation Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) database; casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, Director, Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), 8 June 2016; and Monitor media scanning 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2015. The data sets and the casualties included in the reports were analyzed by the Monitor and duplicate casualty data removed to create a unique data set.

[18] Email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 27 July 2015.

[19] Email from Amir Kazkaz, VDC, 8 March 2015.

[20] “Despite the great difficulty in even getting an approximate number of people injured by the use of cluster munitions by the government forces, the estimates of the team of SNHR refer to more than 1470 people injured.” SNHR, “Victims of Cluster Munitions in Syria,” 2 February 2014, p. 6; SNHR, “Three Year Harvest,” 31 March 2014; and casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 28 April 2014.

[21] Email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 26 July 2015; and email from Amir Kazkaz, VDC, 8 March 2015.

[22] SNHR, “The Syrian Regimes Cluster Attacks in 2014 (25 January–25 September 2014),” 18 October 2014; and SNHR, “Four Years Harvest: The Use of Cluster Ammunition…That is Still Going,” 30 March 2015.

[23] Email from Amir Kazkaz, VDC, 14 April 2014; casualty data from the VDC database; casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 28 April 2014; SNHR, “The Syrian Regime’s Cluster Munition Attacks in 2014,” 18 October 2014; and SNHR, “Four Years Harvest: The Use of Cluster Ammunition…That is Still Going,” 30 March 2015. The two data sets and the casualties included in the reports were analyzed by the Monitor and duplicate casualty data removed to create a unique data set.

[24] Email from Amir Kazkaz, VDC, 14 April 2014; casualty data from the VDC database; and casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 28 April 2014. The two data sets were analyzed by the Monitor and duplicate casualty data removed to create a unique data set.

[25] Email from Amir Kazkaz, VDC, 14 April 2014; casualty data from the VDC database; and casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 28 April 2014. The two data sets were analyzed by the Monitor and duplicate casualty data removed to create a unique data set.

[26] Previously, through media monitoring, the Monitor had identified 165 casualties from cluster munitions strikes for 2012.

[27] Casualty data from the VDC database; casualty data sent by email from Fadel Abdul Ghani, SNHR, 8 June 2016; and Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Russia/Syria: Daily Cluster Munition Attacks,” 8 February 2016. The two data sources and the casualties included in the report were analyzed by the Monitor and duplicate casualty data removed to create a unique data set.

[28] HI, Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities (Brussels: HI, May 2007), p. 132.

[30] Janine di Giovanni, “Syria’s White Helmets save civilians, soldiers and rebels alike,” Newsweek, 21 January 2016.

[32] Human Rights Council, “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” A/HRC/31/68, 11 February 2016, p. 12, para. 84.

[33] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Syrian Arab Republic: Health Sector Update (September 2013),” 9 September 2013; and ICRC, “Annual Report 2013,” Geneva, 2014, p. 506.

[35] Syrian-American Medical Society Foundation, “Press Release: Three boys killed by a landmine in Madaya,” 30 March 2016; and UN Security Council, “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015),” S/2016/631, 20 July 2016.

[36] Human Rights Council, “Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention Oral Update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” A/HRC/22/CRP.1, 11 March 2013, p. 3, para. 10; Human Rights Council, “9th Report of Commission of Inquiry on Syria,” 20 February 2015; and Human Rights Council, “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” A/HRC/31/68, 11 February 2016, pp. 10–11 para. 58–68.

[37] Physicians for Human Rights, “Anatomy of a Crisis: A Map of Attacks on Health Care in Syria,” December 2015.

[39] Physicians for Human Rights, “Syria’s Medical Community Under Assault,” February 2015.

[40] ICRC, “Annual Report 2015,” Geneva, 2016, pp. 517–520.

[41] Ibid.

[43] HI, “Consortium Coordinator (Kobané) - TURKEY,” employment posting information, 14 March 2016.

[44] HI, “Field Coordinator North Syria (based in Turkey),” employment posting information, 15 March 2016.

[45] HI, “Physical Rehabilitation Technical Advisor - North Syria,” employment posting information, 27 November 2014.

[46] HI, “Syria: A mutilated future,” 20 June 2016.

[47] Ibid.

[49] Email from Noura Khaled, Senior Project Officer, HI – Middle East Program, 28 June 2016.

[50] Statement of Lebanon, Convention on Cluster Munitions Forth Meeting of States Parties, Lusaka, 10 September 2013.

[51] ICRC, “Annual report 2014,” Geneva, 12 May 2015, p. 501.

[52] Survivor presentations, “Oussama and Ayman,” HI Workshop on Victim Assistance and Explosive Weapons, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 11 May 2016; and email from Noura Khaled, HI, 28 June 2016.

[53] Syrian Network for Human Rights, “The Wounded in Syria: An Endless Pain,” 26 June 2014.

[55] World Health Organization (WHO), “Syria Crisis – Turkey 3PR Operations: Country brief and funding request,” January–June 2015.

[56] Kurdish Question, “Why the World Needs To Help Reconstruct Kobane,” 13 April 2015.

[57] Syrian Network for Human Rights, “The Wounded in Syria: An Endless Pain,” 26 June 2014.

[59] HRW, “Greece: Chaos, insecurity in registration center,” 12 October 2015; MSF, “Migration: Up to 3,000 people stranded at the border between Serbia and Croatia without shelter,” 19 October 2015; and “We WILL get to Europe…Disabled migrants in wheelchairs and helpers carrying prosthetic legs struggle to cross the Serbia-Croatia border as doctors warn refugees are already suffering in cold weather,” Daily Mail, 28 September 2015.

[60] UNHCR, “Some 3,300 people a day still arriving on Levos,” 13 November 2015.

[63] Email from Noura Khaled, HI – Middle East Program, 28 June 2016.