The Syrian government’s strategy of “surrender or starve” towards civilian populations in opposition controlled areas amounts to a crime against humanity, Amnesty International announced today.
In a new report, the human rights watchdog examines Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s campaign of sieges, unlawful killings and forced displacement in regions which have supposedly negotiated reconciliation agreements between government forces and opposition groups.
“In most instances this displacement was not carried out for civilians’ security or an imperative military necessity. That means it violated the prohibition of forced displacement under international humanitarian law, amounting to a war crime,” the report said.
Amnesty conducted interviews with 134 people including displaced residents, UN officials and humanitarian workers since April this year, and also reviewed dozens of videos and analysed satellite imagery to corroborate witness accounts. Syrian and Russian authorities did not respond to requests for comments.
The Syrian government is also revealed to have been depriving civilians of food, medicine and other basic necessities, in at least six besieged areas, namely Daraya, eastern Aleppo city, Al-Waer, Madaya, Kefraya and Foua.
While the report concludes that all sides in the conflict have violated international law to some degree, it emphasises that the Assad regime’s strategy of systematically preventing aid from entering civilian areas, while simultaneously mounting relentless bombing campaigns, amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The plight of those trapped in besieged areas of Syria was brought to the forefront last month, when a picture of one month-old Sahar Dofdaa in eastern Ghouta, who weighed less than two kilogrammes with her bones clearly visible beneath her skin before her death, prompted fresh outrage. Some 400,000 people in the province are facing a severe lack of basic food and medication, with 1,200 children suffering from severe malnutrition, and another 1,500 at imminent risk.
Despite Ghouta being one of the four de-escalation zones established in May by Russia, Iran and Turkey, the besieged province is also subject to regular airstrikes from the Syrian regime; seven children were killed last week after a school was bombed.
Last week the UN warned that the situation in Syria is returning to the “bleakest days” of the conflict, as the ongoing civil war surpasses the length of World War II.
Amnesty emphasised that abuses against civilians are being ignored, and called for an independent body to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
“All states should cooperate to bring an end to the dark stain on the world’s conscience that ongoing impunity for such crimes represents,” said Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East at Amnesty.