Striking parallels between Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine and Syria require cooperation between Ukrainian and Syrian civil society and humanitarian organisations.

This is according to a new report Deadly déjà vu: Russia revisits Syria war tactics in Ukraine by Syrian medical doctor, humanitarian and human rights activist Dr Tayseer Alkarim. The report, commissioned by Impunity Watch, provides a comprehensive survey of the similarities between the humanitarian crises in Syria and Ukraine.

“For Syrians, Russia’s attacks in Ukraine are hauntingly familiar. The scale and frequency of the violations reveal the extent of the culture of impunity. Ukrainians and Syrians must stand united in the push for justice and to make sure their bitter experiences are not repeated.” – Dr Tayseer Alkarim

Conditions for impunity

Echoing its military involvement in Syria since 2015, Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine include:

  • Systematic attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, causing mass displacement and devastation;
  • The exploitation of international humanitarian law (IHL) to gain control over areas. This occurred for example through attacks on healthcare facilities and the weaponisation of humanitarian corridors;
  • Disrupting organisations that document war crimes, presenting challenges for humanitarians and civil society in both countries;
  • Shaping the war narrative through disinformation:. Russia’s manipulation of the war narrative is no less brutal and damaging than the war itself.

“Despite overwhelming evidence of violations in Syria, none of the perpetrators have been held to account. This has created the conditions for the crimes to be repeated in Ukraine” – Dr Tayseer Alkarim

The importance of solidarity

Russia’s full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022 triggered a complex crisis, impacting not only the present and future of Ukraine, but the entire world. It exposed an estimated 1.6 billion people to at least one dimension of the crisis – food, energy, and finance.

The crisis makes cooperation and solidarity between victims, humanitarian organisations, and civil society in Syria and Ukraine a strategic imperative. This could help bring perpetrators to justice, expose gaps in international humanitarian law and improve processes for documenting violations.

There have already been inspiring examples of collaboration between Syrian and Ukrainian activists. The report proposes to formalise these efforts through a forum for activists to meet, build alliances and strengthen their voice.

Dr Tayseer Alkarim is a Syrian medical doctor, humanitarian and human rights activist. He has first-hand experience in humanitarian assistance in armed conflicts (Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Ukraine). In 2022, he co-led a medical programme in Ukraine, where he visited hospitals and met with Ukrainian doctors dealing with the casualties of Russia’s military invasion. He lives in exile in France.

Impunity Watch is an international non-profit organisation. It works with victims of violence to uproot deeply ingrained structures of impunity, deliver redress for grave human rights violations and promote justice and peace. In Syria, Impunity Watch supports victim associations to raise awareness of the atrocities committed in the country since 2011 and the plight of the victims. It also seek to build solidarity and coalitions between different groups of victims.

Image: Protesters in Berlin mark 11th anniversary of the Syrian Revolution, March 2022. © Sipa USA/ Alamy Stock Photo