The report to the Memorial and other groups calls on the Russians to wake up and take responsibility for serious Russian abuses in Syria.
The report is the first made by Russian human rights activists and touches on a topic that is almost taboo in Russia.
It focuses on the victims of Russia’s military operations in Syria and stands in stark contrast to the official portrayal of the war, in which Russian forces are praised for their efforts against IS terrorists and support for Bashar al – Assad’s government.
More than 150 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, several European countries and in Russia were interviewed to create the 200-page report. The interviewers were not allowed to enter Syria.
They heard reports of arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture, extrajudicial executions, use of illicit weapons against civilians, starvation, sexual assault and other cases of abuse.
– Not a rescue
– The overwhelming majority of those we interviewed do not see Russia as a rescue, but as a destructive foreign force that helped support the war criminal who rules their country, the report states.
– Some of those we interviewed said that they or their loved ones were exposed to Russian bombs, the report says.
The report accuses Russia of, among other things, arbitrary bombing of civilians and support for the Syrian regime, which is accused of atrocities such as chemical gas attacks on civilians and starvation of people in besieged cities.
Activists have also noted the abuses perpetrated by US-led forces, but say most of the testimonies were “abuses by government forces and their allies, as well as armed opposition groups, including terrorist groups.”
Compares with Chechnya
Oleg Orlov in the Memorial compares the Russian bombing of civilians in Syria with the military tactics in Chechnya, where Russia fought two wars against separatists.
A woman from Homs, who was under siege from 2013 to 2016, told the authors of the report that the Russian intervention had strengthened the Syrian regime’s will to act.
“In the six months since the Russian bombing began, there were more victims than in two years of Syrian bombing,” she said.
Russia denies that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, but the interviewers received testimonies from several about attacks with sarin and other chemical weapons.
Unknown to many
The authors of the report want as many Russians as possible to read the report and realize their responsibility for what is going on in their name in Syria.
They say many Russians are unaware of the prevalence of human rights violations and war crimes in Syria, even though Russia has been involved in the war since 2015.
– We feel both bitter and ashamed of how those we spoke to look at us Russians, says Orlov in Memorial.