Syria: Squeezing the life out of Yarmouk: War crimes against besieged civilians

March 10, 2014

Syria: Squeezing the life out of Yarmouk: War crimes against besieged civilians

Within the context of the siege, Syrian security forces have also arrested scores of Yarmouk residents, many of whom they have subjected to enforced disappearance. Some have died in custody in suspicious circumstances. Those arrested include at least 12 medical workers; six of whom were subjected to enforced disappearance and remain unaccounted for and another who died in the custody of Syrian security forces. All appear to have been targeted by the Syrian security forces on account of their activities as medical workers. Other medical and health workers have been killed and injured in apparently targeted or indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian government forces besieging Yarmouk.

The plight of the Palestinian refugees of Syria is a catastrophe within the wider catastrophe of Syria. Almost two thirds of Syria's 530,000 Palestinian refugees have once again been displaced. Approximately 270,000 Palestinians are internally displaced in Syria. More than 50,000 are reported to have fled to Lebanon, 11,000 to Jordan, 6,000 to Egypt, 1,000 to Libya, 1,000 to Gaza and others to Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia and other countries. As early as July 2013, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which provides protection and assistance to some 5 million Palestinian refugees across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, described the community as "unravelling and in acute distress".

This report draws on information provided to Amnesty International by six current residents of Yarmouk and 12 former residents, now either internally displaced within Syria or living as refugees abroad and who remain in contact sporadically, and with great difficulty, with family members and others who remain in Yarmouk. Amnesty International's interviews with all of these individuals have been conducted via the internet, Skype and telephone. Additional information has been obtained from representatives of human rights, humanitarian and medical organizations as well as through monitoring of video clips and other images published by residents of Yarmouk and others. Amnesty International is withholding the identities of all those who contributed information to this report to protect their security. International humanitarian law – the laws of war – prohibits the use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare. Syrian government forces and other parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian assistance to civilians in need. They must also allow civilians in besieged areas to leave and ensure the freedom of movement of authorized humanitarian relief personnel. The parties to the armed conflict must ensure that the wounded and sick are collected and cared for without adverse distinction. Sieges that amount to collective punishment of the civilian population are prohibited under international humanitarian law.

Amnesty International is calling on the Syrian government and military forces to immediately lift the siege of Yarmouk and other civilian areas, cease shelling and other indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians, and allow humanitarian organizations and agencies unfettered access to all areas to assist the civilian population without discrimination. This should include cross-border access from neighbouring states such as Turkey into areas under the control of armed opposition forces, as well as access across conflict lines between government and opposition forces. Armed opposition groups, likewise, should allow unfettered access by humanitarian agencies to civilians in areas under their control and refrain from indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks. All sides should respect the role of medical workers and refrain from attacks on medical and other humanitarian workers.

All sides should also respect the international prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that all detainees are treated humanely at all times. Anyone detained or imprisoned on account of their legitimate exercise of human rights or on account of their identity should be released immediately.