The common analysis below regarding the degree of indiscriminate violence taking place in the different governorates of Syria combines quantitative and qualitative elements in a holistic and inclusive assessment.
The indicators applied are formulated in reference to the ECtHR judgment in Sufi and Elmi:
(…) first, whether the parties to the conflict were either employing methods and tactics of warfare which increased the risk of civilian casualties or directly targeting civilians; secondly, whether the use of such methods and/or tactics was widespread among the parties to the conflict; thirdly, whether the fighting was localised or widespread; and finally, the number of civilians killed, injured and displaced as a result of the fighting.
These indicators were further developed and adapted in order to be applied as a general approach to assessing the element of ‘indiscriminate violence’, irrespective of the country of origin in question. The security situation in the respective territories is assessed by taking into account the following elements:
o Presence of actors in the conflict
This indicator looks into the presence of actors in the conflict in the respective governorate and their relations. Seen in conjunction with the methods and tactics known to be used by the different actors, this is considered an indication of the risk civilians may face in the respective area.
o Nature of methods and tactics
Some methods and tactics used in an armed conflict are by their nature more indiscriminate than others and create a more substantial risk for civilians. Therefore, information on these is particularly relevant in the assessment of risk under Article 15(c) QD.
The methods and tactics used in the armed conflicts ongoing in Syria differ according to the actors involved. However, throughout the conflict different actors have been reported to engage in indiscriminate attacks involving airstrikes, use of explosive devices, but also ground engagements, etc., which significantly impact the civilian population. Some actors, including the GoS, have also been reported to deliberately target civilians and civilian objects. The use of prohibited weapons of war has also been largely documented, in particular by the GoS [Security 2020, 1.6.1; Security 2019, 4]. Explosive remnants of war are also widespread in Syria. According to UNOCHA, 10.2 million persons live in 1 980 communities reporting explosive hazards [Security 2020, 22.214.171.124; Security 2019, 4.4].
o Number of incidents
The number of security incidents is an important indicator, pointing to the intensity of hostilities in a certain area. In relation to this indicator, data collected by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) is consistently presented per governorate.
ACLED collects data on several types of violent incidents in Syria: battles, violence against civilians, explosions/remote violence, riots, protests, strategic developments. Each incident is coded with the time and place, type of violent incident, the parties involved, and the number of fatalities. The COI summaries per governorate focus in particular on the number of incidents coded as follows:
✓ Battles: violent clashes between at least two armed groups.
Battles can occur between armed and organised State, non-State, and external groups, and in any combination therein. Sub-events of battles are armed clashes, government regains territory and non-State actor overtakes territory.
✓ Explosions/remote violence: events where an explosion, bomb or other explosive device was used to engage in conflict.
They include one-sided violent events in which the tool for engaging in conflict creates asymmetry by taking away the ability of the target to engage or defend themselves and their location. These include air/drone strikes, suicide bombs, shelling/artillery/missile attack, remote explosive/landmine/IED, grenade, chemical weapon.
✓ Violence against civilians: violent events where an organised armed group deliberately inflicts violence upon unarmed non-combatants.
It includes violent attacks on unarmed civilians such as sexual violence, attacks, abduction/forced disappearance.
For further information on the data, see Security 2020, 1.6.2.
In order to provide an indication of the relative intensity of incidents, the number of security incidents is furthermore presented as a weekly average for the reporting period of 2019, as well as the first two months of 2020.
o Geographical scope
This element looks into how widespread the violence is within the area. Where such information is available, the analysis highlights the districts which are particularly affected by indiscriminate violence and/or the districts which are relatively less affected.
Where the conflict severity varies within an area, the place of origin of the applicant could constitute an important element to consider in the assessment. The higher the level of indiscriminate violence in the respective place, the less additional individual elements would be required in order to apply Article 15(c) QD.
o Civilian casualties
This is considered a key indicator when assessing (the level of) indiscriminate violence in the context of Article 15(c) QD.
In Syria, many international monitoring groups have stopped providing detailed estimates of the number of fatalities because of the complexity of the situation and the lack of access to first-hand information. There are several Syrian organisations that still attempt to collect such information, however, the figures they provide vary due to differences in methods, ground presence, and access to information. For the purposes of the governorate-level COI summaries, the number of civilian fatalities reported by Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) and SNHR are provided systematically. For further information on the choice of sources, see Security 2020, Sources, p.9.
Data on injured civilians, which would also be relevant to take into account under the indicator ‘civilian casualties’ is not systematically available and, therefore, has not been included in the sub-sections.
The reported number of civilian fatalities is further weighted by the number of inhabitants in the governorate and presented as ‘number of civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants’. It should be noted that the latest population figures refer to 2016, however, and this can only serve as an indication of the threat on civilian life.
Under this indicator, the COI summaries per governorate provide information about recent IDP movements from and to the governorate, as well as information on returns where available.
In addition to the indicators above, some examples of further impact of the armed conflicts on the life of civilians are mentioned and taken into account in the assessment.