Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria

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VDC logo as seen on their website

The Center for Documentination of Violations (CDV) or sometimes Violations Documentation Center (VDC) (Arabic: مركز توثيق الانتهاكات في سوريا ) is another almost-one-man organization like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), but with a different approach (they're more stridently anti-regime and less concerned with Islamists and sectarianism), and different results. Its one-man leadership answer to Rami Abdulrahman is a woman, actually, Razan Zeitouneh, general coordinator, described by the Daily Star (Lebanon) as "prominent human rights lawyer and opposition activist " [1] Less influential than SOHR by a long shot, the VDC is still worth a bit of examination.

Unlike the the SOHR, headquartered in the U.K. (with the distance helping justify the astronomical-sounding "observatory," conjuring images of telescopes), the CDV is apparently headquartered in Syria, specifically the Damascus suburb of Douma. It was there she was abducted, anyway, in December, 2013, according to reports. This was following an attack on and vandalism of the VDC headquarters by unclear gunmen. See #Abduction of Razan Zaitouneh below.

I have been citing their database here for a while, most of the time wrongly using the acronym SCDV, and I sometimes call them the Center for Violations of Documentation. That usage is not accidental (see below), but is sort of arbitrary. Most notably their entries were of great help understanding the May, 2013 Al-Bayda Massacre. --Caustic Logic (talk) 12:11, 18 October 2013 (UTC)

On the organization's "About" page, they describe a rigorous three-stage process to get the fullest information considering "the complexities of the Syrian situation," to "overcome a number of these obstacles as much as possible together with maintaining the credibility of our center and the rights of victims by conveying the truth as it is." The Wikipedia page, citing a BBC multimedia thing, says the CDV "works with the activists from the Local Coordination Committees of Syria" (LCC).

Abduction of Razan Zaitouneh

On December 10, 2013, Mrs. Zaitouneh was at the VDC office in Douma when unknown masked gunmen broke in and abducted her and three others at gunpoint. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, nor any demands or anything. [2] The others taken with Mrs. Zaitouneh were her husband Wael Hmadeh, and two other activists named Nazem al-Hamadi and Samira al-Khalil. [3]

For more sources and discussion, please see talk page - More on the Abduction.

One year after their abduction, there was still no clear word on the fate of the "Douma Four." Dan Wilkofsky writes for Syria Direct in December 2014: Fellow activist Bassam al-Ahmad, who is now the point of contact for the VDC, posted a call to action on Facebook Tuesday asking people to contact the leader of Jaish al-Islam, the most powerful rebel group in Douma.

“Please send a tweet… to Zahran Aloush, head of Jaish al-Islam, one of the most influential armed opposition groups in Douma, to ask about the steps that his group has taken to ensure the safe release of Razan and her colleagues,” al-Ahmad wrote.
Aloush has repeatedly denied responsibility for Zaitouneh’s kidnapping on the grounds that Jaish al-Islam (JAI) “fights on the fronts” and does not have a presence in the city of Douma proper.
The East Ghouta suburb, however, is JAI’s stronghold. Ref: One year on, activists demand answers in Razan Zaitouneh disappearance]By Dan Wilkofsky, Syria Direct, December 9, 2014

Syria Death Toll Calculations

The death toll for the whole Syrian conflict reported by the CDV is vastly different from that of the SOHR. The SOHR's count passed 115,206 (a minimum, verified number) before this October 1 Facebook update. Months before they stated, as 94,000 was passed, that the real death toll was likely 120,000 or more, and by now perhaps nearing 150,000. The minimum count should be about 116,000 now. As of this writing, in mid-October, the VDC's count of "martyrs" since 2011 (as shown on their main page or all martyrs search) has just passed 76,000. But unlike SOHR, that's not the full number. It includes civilians, rebel fighters, foreign fighters, unidentified tortured bodies, etc. It's presumed all these are killed by regime forces and not anyone allied with any of the martyrs. There are no loyal army, NDF/Shabiha, pro-gvernment activists and informers, Alawite civilians massacred during Islamist raids, etc. The people killed by rebels that they do count, and it seems a bit short, is VDC "Regime forces fatlities" aka "other statistics" - currently at 11,455. So their real total is 87,542, about 28,000 behind SOHR.

The breakdown differences are also interesting. The "regime" deaths are further divided by the SOHR 10-1: Regular soldiers and officers: 28,804 Popular defence committees, National defence forces, Shabiha and pro-regime informers: 18,228 Fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah: 174 total = 47,206 - 40% of a larger total, almost four times the VDC's 11,455, about 12% of their small total. VDC's Martyrs = SOHR's break-down groups: Civilians: 40,146 Rebel fighters: 17,071 Defected soldiers and officers: 2,176 Unidentified casualties (documented by pictures and footages): 2,760 Unidentified and foreign rebel fighters (mostly the latter): 4.460. Total = 66,613 to VDC's 76,000, which includes, for example, none of the hundreds of Alawite civilians recently slaughtered by Islamists in Latakia, Homs, and elsewhere (see below).

Damascus Mass Grave Claims

The Lebanese Daily Star reported on October 1, 2013 "Rights group finds mass graves near Damascus," but not related to the Ghouta alleged Sarin attack. Instead, they aired a dramatic new claim that thousands of political prisoners of the regime had been executed en masse and buried secretly. Using ". satellite imagery provided by Human Rights Watch," the "Violations and Documentation Center" was cited for locating "two sites it believes are being used to bury thousands of regime detainees in the Damascus area. [1]

The CDV's own page on this subject is here Press Releases :: Hundreds of Detainees buried in mass mraves in Damascus Suburbs in Branch 215 38-page PDF report can be downloaded there. Another member, Bassam al-Ahmad (a spokesman to the Daily Star), compiled the report (Under the supervision of Razan Zeitouneh).

Violations of Documentation

The main problem with the CDV method seems to be taking the explanation of its rebel militant sources at face value with no verification or other types of sources consulted. And sometimes it's what's not reported by their sources, even as the rest of the world is talking about it, that gives them away. The effects are varied and I seek to cite a few best examples to show each type. --Caustic Logic (talk) 14:24, 18 October 2013 (UTC)

Massacres of Alawites and non-Sunnis with problematic reportage

  • Shumariyeh Massacre May 25, 2012: Not even recognized by most people as an event, just an alleged side-aspect of the Houla massacre, the ten Alawite victims state media identified as murdered in a rebel offensive out of al-Qusayr, have no reported entries here.
  • Aqrab Massacre, Dec. 2-11, 2012: The killed negotiators appear (about six), one possible child victim laundered, and some villagers killed at the time of the rebel takeover on the 2nd and 3rd all appear here, plus a rebel who died in the attack. None of the 125-150 Alawites rebels reported blown up, out of the 200-235 they held captive, appear. Again, not that they really appear on the world's radar screen either.
  • Hatlah Massacre, June 12, 2013: There seem to be a few scattered clues in the areas and days around this undeniable rebel assault on Shia civilians, including a prominent cleric and his family. But none of the main victims, civilians or Shia militia members who reportedly took the brunt of it, nor anything clear in the town of Hatlah appears at all. Detailed analysis at the link.
  • Latakia Massacres, August 4-? 2013: Rebel and government forces are recorded fighting and dying in the area but of the 200 civilians massacred in a dozen small towns, not a one is recorded here. Nor do the estimated 200 captured civilians appear in its databases for those detained or missing. This time, Human Rights Watch and the world are taking note, and the CDV record finally appears outright suspicious.
  • Maksar al-Husan Massacres, Mid-September, 2013: No trace of it whatsoever, when SOHR and a worried global media fretted that this wasn't a one-time thing.
  • Sadad Massacre, late October, 2013: At least 21 civilians including 9 women found executed in this ancient Christian town near al-Qusayr, following a week-long rebel occupation by both al-Qaeda and Islamist FSA brigades. Reports say that started with a twin suicide bombing at an army checkpoint Oct.21, followed by the displacement and killing of locals, an ambush of the army, and days of fighting, with the tally of the missing and dead still unclear. The CDV reports a colonel killed in the right time and place, some other soldiers perhaps killed here, one rebel fighter from Qusayr killed Oct. 27, and exactly zero civilian martyrs. Just like with Alawites, it seems the killing of Christians doesn't qualify as a "violation," either to the documentation center or the lopsided sources it relies on. (unless it's been re-branded as a regime crime like Sari Ibrahim Saood, but see The Killing of Sari Saoud for the fuller story on that one)

Alawi References and Records

While few Alawi martyrs are reported, there are some, and also some insights, from searching for "Alawi" in the notes window. This brings up ten martyrs. I feel like sharing all ten. First, the most recent five, all on October 12, 2013. --Caustic Logic (talk) 13:20, 31 October 2013 (UTC)

  • Abdo Mohammad Fadel, FSA, died in Turkey from "other." Notes: "Wounded in the battle of liberation Jeser Alshogour ten days ago and were in good condition after an operation to him, but he died yesterday after he has visited by a doctor from the Alawite sect." Exact relation between the visit and his death not stated.
  • Apparently unrelated: same day five members of a family abducted in Tel Rifaat were executed. The father (not a doctor, we presume?) is missing, but his wife and three kids were murdered. Nadia Khalil Joumaa al-Hadee (the wife) Ahmad Ibrahim Muhammad Abdullah al-Saeid Muhammad Ibrahim Muhammad Abdullah al-Saeid Ayham Ibrahim Muhammad Abdullah al-Saeid (their sons). Notes for all: "Regime's shsabbiha abducted a family that consists of a father, a mother and three children in an Alawite village, the resource also mentioned that the mother and three children were executed while the fate of the father is still unknown." Kindnapped in/taken from an Alawite village? Or kidnapped/taken to/held in? Sounds like the latter, an allegation bound to cause more bad blood then.
  • Starting now at he beginning: Hamida Abdulaziz Makhlouf: Adult - Female 55, Homs, Khaldieh. Died 2012-01-16, Shooting. Notes: "She was Alawi. She died by shabiha near the main bakery in Ashira area (main bakery massacre)"
  • Rafi Zahra non-civilian, conscript, from Latakia, Jableh (actually in Tartous) killed 2012-04-03 in Daraa: Jizza. Notes: "from the Alawite sect." Conscript usually means national army, not FSA. And FSA conscripts are called defectors or just FSA. Sounds like an Alawi soldier killed as that, presumably by rebels, put on the wrong list.
  • Ahmad Mohammad Hmaisho: Civilian driver from Idlib, Al-Zawia Mount: Rami, died 2013-07-25 in Latakia. Cause of Death: Other. Notes: "Was killed by shabiha (regime's armed thugs) Alawite community , They ran over the head with hammers." (??)

And finally, Alawite rebel fighters! Two pop up here, sure not the only two who died. One clearly went out badly. It's not certain either really joined.

  • Jalal Khalil al-Asadi: (horrible photo, holes dug in his flesh, blood all over) from Damascus, Tadamoun, FSA, 2012-08-14, Kidnapping - Torture - Execution, From Alawi Sect - He was kidnapped on by the Nisren neighborhood thugs then his body was found near a Zubair mosque and signs of torture On The it" (Shabiha not explicitly blamed here)
  • Ali Hasan Haydar: (ID card shown) From Tartous, Defected First Sergeant. Killed by shooting, 2013-03-17, in Damascus Suburbs: Mouadmaeih. Notes: "He is from Alawi sect , he was killed due to clashes with regime's army." Which isfull of Alawi lieutenants from Latakia. Did he defect before dying? Or did he fall on the same side as soldier Zahra above and get put on the wrong list?

The following is listed wrong in the opposite way: On October 24, a civilian typed in as "Al Jpkhdar" (al-Jokhdar?) (from Salamia, Hama, martyrdom location blank) "was shot by one of the barriers to regime forces "Local committees" and after a search of the car turned out to have been killed by mistake, He is Alawites," CDV noted. He appears in the regime forces list as a civilian, and not on the martyrs list for those killed by the regime. ([All men from Hama killed Oct. 23-25]). The name must be Jokhdar, and to be fair, two others appear as martyrs (and none no more on the other list). A man, again only named by family name: Of Al-Jokhdar family, age 65, killed in "shelling," Bab Sbaa, Homs, March 23, 2012. And a girl, Jouhaina Jokhdar, from Sakhour, Aleppo, age 12, was shot July 21, 2012. Also, Two Gokhdar men, Alaa Deen Ali and Khalid Abdul Tazaq Gokhdar, likely unrelated, from Damascus, Doummar killed April 5, by "Detention - Torture" (not "Detention - Torture -Execution") among "Ten martyrs under torture in military security branch 215."


Adam Larson on Twitterre: Shia village of Fouah in Idlib province, currently under massive rebel attack. "Adam Larson ‏@CL4Syr · 2m2 minutes ago

  1. Syria #Foua VDC lists 133 total Foua dead as "regime's army"… and Zero as humans…"