The Fourth Quarterly Siege Watch Report published today details conditions for at least 1,326,175 people living in more than 39 besieged communities in Syria. The Syrian government and its allies remain responsible for the majority of existing sieges, as well as all “Watchlist” areas, where more than 1.1 million additional Syrians face the threat of complete siege.
This reporting period was notable for the number of forcible transfers from besieged areas as the government and its allies have shifted tactics from “surrender or starve” to “surrender or die,” in an effort to neutralize besieged communities, alternating intense attacks with periods of negotiation. After the complete destruction and depopulation of Darayya in August, other communities faced increased pressure to capitulate. Local negotiating committees are being coerced through a mixture of threats, lies, warnings and ever-changing terms, pushing besieged residents to new depths of despair. Communities are forced to accept conditions that leave them vulnerable to abuse and to make concessions without any guarantees that the government side would comply. In al-Waer, the Syrian government extracted concessions and evacuated a number of fighters, but when it came time to implement its concessions and release information on 7,500 detainees, pro-government forces instead launched a new wave of attacks.
Darayya, in Rural Damascus, was completely destroyed during the reporting period and its entire population surrendered and was forcibly displaced. An additional community, Hosh Nasri in the Eastern Ghouta area of Rural Damascus, was captured in a military offensive and its entire population was displaced into other besieged communities in Eastern Ghouta. Moadamiya and the two “Watchlist” communities of Qudsaya, and al-Hameh were forced to capitulate to government truce conditions under the threat of increased violence and destruction. Some of these conditions include disarming, forced transfer of part of the population, and conscription into the Syrian army for military-aged males. In return, the communities are supposed to get the return of goods and services, normalization of civilian movement, and in some cases the release of detainees. While there is potential that these developments could lead to lasting improvements for civilians, there is also fear and concern that the conditions imposed by the government have left the population extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses.
According to Siege Watch reporting sources, Russian and Iranian intermediaries are overseeing the local negotiations. In almost all recent cases, local negotiating committees have reached out to the UN agencies in Damascus to request independent monitoring of the agreements and their requests have been ignored or denied. In some instances similar requests have been made for years without result. The UN has said that they only “get involved in evacuation operations when requested by all parties.” As a result, the deals reached in these besieged communities have been capitulations made under extreme duress, resulting in violations of international humanitarian law.
For the fourth quarter in a row, these Siege Watch data indicates a much larger problem than the UN officially recognizes, with only 974,080 people in 16 besieged communities as of 1 November. These differences are not due to methodology, as Siege Watch purposefully uses the UN OCHA criteria to designate an area as besieged. As long as the UN, which informs the actions of the international community, fails to recognize the full scope of the problem, it is unlikely that an appropriate response will be possible.
Siege Watch is a joint effort of The Syria Institute and PAX, a Dutch peace building NGO. This fourth quarterly reports covers the period from August to October 2016. For more information visit Siege Watch online at www.siegewatch.org, and follow us on Twitter at @SiegeWatch.