As many as a quarter of a million civilians in areas under siege around Syria need the UN Security Council to push for unfettered humanitarian access to alleviate their suffering, Amnesty International said today, as the world body considers a draft resolution submitted by Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan.
In one location alone – the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees south of Damascus, in which Syrian nationals also live – the organization has received the names of more than 100 men, women and children who have died during a siege imposed by the Syrian armed forces last July following clashes with armed opposition groups. Starvation, lack of adequate medical care and sniper fire have been the main causes of death.
“The situation for civilians trapped and under siege in a number of locations around Syria is truly dire, with vital food and medical supplies either in short supply or completely lacking,” said José Luis Díaz, Head of Amnesty International’s UN office in New York.
“Time and again, the Security Council has squandered the opportunity to tackle the human rights and humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded during nearly three years of unrest in Syria.
“Its non-binding ‘Presidential Statement’ on humanitarian access, seen as a small step forward when adopted on 2 October last year, has remained essentially a dead letter. The Council, including Russia and China, must adopt a strong resolution on access and not fail Syria’s besieged civilians now.”
Russia – which along with China has vetoed three Security Council resolutions on Syria in the past two and a half years – has already voiced its opposition to the draft resolution.
There has been limited progress in allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid to some besieged areas, and amid negotiations to end the siege of Yarmouk hundreds of individuals have been evacuated to hospitals elsewhere in Damascus.
But serious obstacles remain. Even the brief ceasefire allowing the evacuation of civilians from Old Homs collapsed as a UN aid convoy came under attack earlier this week, although it has since been extended.
Yarmouk residents have told Amnesty International that they have had no electricity for a year, are forced to forage under sniper fire for grass to eat and some have resorted to eating cat meat. Local activists have published the names of tens of individuals, including relief workers, who were arrested in the last two weeks when they went to the camp’s main northern checkpoint to assist in the distribution of a small aid delivery. Health workers in the camp have told Amnesty International that only one of Yarmouk’s hospitals continues to partially function but that it has no doctors.
Blockades by Syrian government forces on Moadamiya, Eastern Ghouta and other areas have also left desperate civilians trapped and facing extreme food and medical shortages. Two predominantly Shi’a towns in the Aleppo governorate, Zahraa and Nubl, have also been besieged by armed opposition groups in recent months.
“The increased humanitarian access in a limited number of areas is just a drop in the ocean when compared with the massive civilian suffering across Syria today,” said José Luis Díaz.
“Civilians have been caught in the crossfire and cut off from humanitarian aid for too long. With the Geneva talks between the Syrian government and armed groups faltering, the UN Security Council has no time to lose to ensure adequate humanitarian access is allowed to reach all civilians in need.”
The Syrian government must allow the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria access to investigate all human rights violations and abuses, including those amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes, being committed by all parties to the conflict. It should also allow access to Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.
The organization continues to call for the release of peaceful activists in government detention and civilian hostages being held by armed groups.