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Russian activists issue report on rights abuses in Syria

Thousands of anti-Syrian government protesters shout slogans and wave revolutionary flags, to mark 10 years since the start of a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule, that later turned into an insurgency and civil war, in Idlib, the last major opposition-held area of the country, in northwest Syria.

GHAITH ALSAYED/AP

By ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: April 2, 2021

MOSCOW — Russian human rights activists released a report Friday that chronicles alleged war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law during the 10-year conflict in Syria.

Activists from the Memorial Human Rights Center, the Civic Assistance Committee and other groups interviewed over 150 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, several European nations and Russia.

The organizations analyzed accounts of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial executions, the use of prohibited weapons against civilians, starvation, sexual violence and other abuses.

The authors said their goal was to fill an information vacuum in Russia regarding the conflict in Syria. They said many Russians remain unaware of the scope of human rights violations and war crimes even though Moscow has waged military action in Syria since 2015.

Russia's military involvement has shored up Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule and allowed his government to reclaim control over much of the country.

"The ongoing violence in Syria and the continued failure to secure justice for those harmed make it more critical than ever that the Russian public is informed about the grave human rights abuses that have occurred in Syria over the last decade, including those committed under Russia's watch and, since 2015, with its participation," the report said.

The authors wrote that the Syrian government's military operations conducted jointly or with support from the Russian air force had a "clear pattern of indiscriminate and targeted attacks that did not correspond to the presence of military targets." The Russian military has staunchly denied striking Syrian civilians.

Given Moscow's role in keeping Assad in power, the activists urged the Russian government to "use its influence on Syrian authorities to end arbitrary arrests, torture and degrading treatment in prisons, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances...(and) support the immediate release of those arbitrarily detained and reveal the fates of the disappeared."

They also called on Russian civil society to build contacts with the Syrian public to conduct joint investigations and prevent rights abuses.