“When I left, it was still standing,” says 52-year-old Syrian Hisham Ibrahím about his house. He was able to view the satellite images of the demolished building about a year after he and his family left their village of Khan as-Subul in the northwest of the country. The village used to be inhabited by the opposition, but four years ago it was brought back under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. And the house went to the ground.
The same thing happened to many other people in the region, according to the German station Deutsche Welle (DW), according to which, in addition to the Syrian army, abandoned houses are robbed of any value by looting thieves. “I think they wanted to sell the iron the house was made of. But they also took away our hope of return,” Ibrahim continues, adding that the perpetrators also made holes in his roof for no apparent reason.
According to him, two-thirds of the houses in his village are now uninhabitable. “I used to have eight kilometers of olive trees, some bushes were over fifty years old. They uprooted them. It seems that they want to systematically demolish the entire village,” adds a man who currently lives in a refugee camp in western Idlib.
Forty-five-year-old Fatima Muhammadová also left the village four years ago because of the Russian bombing. She claims her house was damaged, but not badly. She then watched on Google maps as someone gradually destroyed it. According to her and human rights organizations, the Assad regime and the forces connected to it are behind this. Housing thus became another weapon of the state against the insurgents.
Footage of the bombed houses of civilians during two years of brutal war was also recognized by Ukraine. Nothing remains of Mariupol, but it is only the most poignant example of the destruction with which the Russians destroy the morale of the attacked population. Ukrainians in the metropolis of Kyiv and other cities also find themselves homeless.
The vast majority of houses are no longer standing even in many areas of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army is dealing with the perpetrators of this terror, the Hamas movement, after the massacre of October 7 last year. Israel strongly rejects accusations of genocide and insists that it tries to hit as few civilians as possible during the operation.
Regardless, today Gaza, which was already one of the worst places to live in the world due to the way Hamas rules, the international isolation and the war it has experienced, is in ruins. In connection with this conflict, as well as the war in Syria and Ukraine, the voices calling for the deliberate destruction of homes in conflicts to be prosecuted in the same way as other war crimes are beginning to grow stronger.
The new violation of human rights would be called domicida – after the Latin word for house “domus” and with the ending commonly denoting murder. In an op-ed for The New York Times, UN Special Envoy for the Right to Adequate Housing Balakrishnan Rajagopal wrote that “widespread or systematic destruction of homes has long been a feature of modern wars.”
Israel has bulldozed large areas of Gaza to make fortified positions as they advance across the enclave. Despite Israel reducing operations in the north, satellite imagery shows ongoing military advancement in southern and central Gaza. https://t.co/w2vlbfgw8D https://t.co/echZFEtpzw
January 24, 2024 at 12:25 a.m. Post Archived: February 1, 2024 at 3:14 p.m.
“However, often lost between the photographs of the wreckage and the statistics of destroyed buildings is the profound human impact of these losses. Home is much more than just a building: It is a repository of acquired experiences and future dreams, memories of birth, death, marriage and intimate moments with our loved ones, among neighbors and in familiar surroundings. The idea of home brings comfort and gives meaning to our lives. Its destruction is a denial of human dignity and humanity,” he points out.
“This is precisely why the systematic and indiscriminate razing of entire neighborhoods with explosives, as happened in Aleppo, Mariupol, Grozny, cities in Burma or these days most acutely in Gaza, should be considered a crime against humanity,” he notes , that more and more academics agree. “In an increasingly urbanized world, where densely populated cities are becoming common battlegrounds, the need for such measures is all the more urgent,” he continues.
Rajagopal also mentions that murder as a war crime can be understood as genocide or “just” a crime against humanity. It depends on the intensity. And according to him, the destruction of homes during wars could also be graded. “We are witnessing destruction in Gaza that is staggering in its scale and impact and far worse than what we saw in Dresden and Rotterdam during World War II, when around 25,000 homes were destroyed in each city. In Gaza, more than 70,000 apartments were destroyed and more than 290,000 apartments were partially damaged,” he claims.
“In some parts of Aleppo, up to 65 percent of buildings were damaged or destroyed in five years of conflict, in Mariupol, around 32 percent of buildings were damaged or destroyed in 2021 and 2022. In roughly three months of conflict, a shocking 60 to 70 percent of buildings were damaged or destroyed in Gaza, and up to 84 percent of buildings in parts of northern Gaza,” he also names.
According to him, the reconstruction of the Ukrainian Mariupol alone will cost an estimated 14 billion dollars and will take no less than ten years – if it ever happens. In the same way, other cities in Ukraine will also need to be rebuilt, Gaza will also need a new “Marshall Plan”.
Domicide could then become a war crime in the same way that forced starvation recently became. The Geneva Conventions have banned it since 1977, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) added it to the list of war crimes under the Rome Statute in 2019. However, it has never been prosecuted, DW points out, noting that it is very difficult to obtain evidence of deliberate denial of food in the assessed cases, demonstrate the existence of a plan to starve the population and specifically name the chain of command that the perpetrators followed.
In the same way, the influence of other factors that may have contributed to the hunger of those concerned must be excluded. In the case of recognition of domicide, it will be similar to the destruction of houses during wars. According to Canadian professor Bree Akesson, who contributed to the book From Bureaucracy to Bullets: Extreme Domicide and the Right to Home (From Bureaucracy to Bullets: Extreme Domicide and the Right to Home), domicide could thus become part of larger cases in which the courts also dealt with other types of human rights violations – for example, forced displacement.
“In the case of Syria, the houses are either occupied by someone else or have been deliberately destroyed to ensure that (the original owners) will not return,” he explains, adding that the term domicide is now more familiar due to media coverage of the ongoing conflicts. Technology has also improved and satellite images are now a regular part of the news. Demolition of houses can thus be shown more easily.
“One of the main conclusions of our book is that home cannot be replaced by anything,” the expert points out after interviews with people who lost their homes during conflicts. “Not with all the money in the world. The home will never be the same, the community will never be the same,” he concludes.