Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) the Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) released a new report concerning Turkish and Russian recruitment of Syrian mercenaries to bolster regional and international allies. “The participation of Syrians as mercenary fighters in combat abroad is serving to enrich and strengthen some of the most criminal armed groups inside the country, particularly Turkish-backed groups in the Northwest,” said Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director of SJAC.
The new report, “Mercenarism in Syria: Predatory Recruitment and the Enrichment of Criminal Militias Enrichment Militias,” is a joint effort by both organizations that sheds light on the predatory economy of mercenary recruitment that has developed in Syria since late 2019. It has since grown to encompass a host of regional and international states, private military contractors, and armed groups and labor brokers.
“The foreign-backed armed groups that are recruiting mercenaries in Syria have exploited the humanitarian crisis in the country. The international community must hold those involved accountable, while also addressing the root causes that make mercenary work one of the only sources of income for many Syrians” said Bassam al-Ahmad, Executive Director of STJ. “Holding these groups, and the states that contract them, accountable for their actions in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh will support efforts to prevent violations in Syria itself,” he added.
In relying on Syrian mercenaries to intervene in conflicts in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, Turkey and Russia have depended on the networks of armed groups and labor brokers that both governments had cultivated in Syria in preceding years. While the intended purpose of particular recruitment drives has sometimes varied, it is clear that the governments involved in regional conflicts, either directly or by proxy, are regularly engaging Syrians in combat abroad in exchange for promises of monetary payment. As such, they are complicit in the practice of mercenarism as defined by Article 47 of Protocol I additional to the Geneva Convention.
The criminal militias and security forces in Syria that supply mercenaries have profited from the informal and mediated nature of the mercenary economy, which systematically encourages the offer of precarious citizenship incentives, wage theft, and the recruitment of children and displaced persons. When combat subsides—as in Libya, where thousands of Syrians who came with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) remain idle and unpaid months after a UN-brokered ceasefire—these armed groups turn to other illegal forms of enrichment like property expropriation and arms sales. Meanwhile, those Syrians who have departed for combat abroad leave behind families who are among the most vulnerable in Syrian society, and are now losing people who are often their only sources of social and material support.
In their jointly published report, SJAC and STJ provide a wide range of recommendations to hold accountable the states and firms involved in different areas of the mercenary economy, and mitigate the humanitarian suffering in Syria at the root of the problem.