Yet another mass expulsion is underway in Syria. Thousands of residents of the al-Waer district of Homs are being taken away under threat of violence as part of a Russian brokered forced surrender deal between opposition leaders in al-Waer and the Assad regime.
The same fate imminently awaits Madaya and Douma as Assad’s campaign of surrender or die continues unabated.
The way this “surrender or die” campaign is being implemented is described in the latest Siege Watch report, published today. Putting communities under siege, which amounts to starving people into surrender, is part of the strategy. Nearly one million Syrians are still under siege, hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world and from all sources of food, medicine and fuel. Another 1.3 million people live in areas that are under partial siege and could be completely cut off at any moment.
Crimes against humanity
“Given the systematic nature of this ‘surrender or die’ campaign, we consider the sieges and forced population transfers crimes against humanity,” says Marjolein Wijninckx, PAX programme leader. “The international community has the responsibility to stop this and those responsible must be held accountable.”
The fifth Siege Watch quarterly report, a joint effort of The Syria Institute and PAX initiated one year ago, covers the period from November 2016 to January 2017. During that time, the government’s scorched earth campaign to take eastern Aleppo captured the world’s attention, but was only one battle in a national campaign. Other communities were also forced to surrender after increased attacks. After every surrender, both fighters and civilians were expelled from their homes.
PAX and the Syria Institute urge the UN and/or the international community to do the following: send monitors into communities which have surrendered; make sure war crimes and crimes against humanity such as starvation and forced population transfers are part of the accountability mechanism being set up by the UN; the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) should be more transparent about its siege designation process; and OCHA decision making on siege designation should move out of Damascus. And, of course, the international community should oversee a process of political transition in Syria to bring an end to the conflict.