January 30, 2014


This report is based on detailed analysis of 15 very-high resolution commercial satellite images recorded between July 16, 2012 and November 20, 2013.[1] Satellite imagery covering the entire urban extent of Damascus and Hama was used to locate demolition sites, evaluate eyewitness testimonies, as well as to measure the area, pace, and timing of the demolitions. Further, the imagery was used to identify the probable methods of demolition employed by government forces and evaluate the local security context immediately preceding, during, and following the demolitions by identifying the number of heavy military vehicles in the immediate area.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed 16 people who either witnessed demolitions or owned houses that were demolished. Identification and interviewing of witnesses have been challenging because fighting and subsequent demolitions permanently displaced many of the witnesses. Interviews were conducted by phone and in person in Syria’s neighboring countries. Most interviews were conducted in Arabic by Arabic speaking researchers. Some interviews were conducted through Arabic-English interpretation. Because of the real possibility of reprisals we have withheld the names of the victims and witnesses we interviewed, using instead pseudonyms to identify the sources of information.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed more than 85 videos posted on YouTube and analyzed government decrees and statements, as well as media reports. To verify the time, location, and circumstances of the videos, Human Rights Watch contacted and interviewed the people who filmed the videos whenever possible. In several cases, Human Rights Watch extracted individual frames from the videos, sometimes creating photo mosaics from the frames, and compared visible landmarks in the videos with satellite imagery to confirm the location.

Area measurements in the report refer to the building surface destroyed, not the total area of the neighborhoods that were demolished. The total area of destroyed buildings was calculated from measurements of the affected areas directly from the satellite imagery.

The instances of demolitions included in this report are those for which Human Rights Watch obtained both statements from witnesses or owners, and a time-series of satellite imagery of high enough quality to allow for detailed analysis.

[1] Satellite imagery used in this report was recorded on the mornings of July 16, August 4 and 28, September 8, 22 and 28, October 3 and 13, November 29, 2012, February 4, April 30, May 23 and 29, July 1, and November 20, 2013. Imagery sources: EUSI, USG and Astrium; Copyright: DigitalGlobe 2014 and CNES 2014.