The Syrian uprising started three years ago this week, sparked by the image of some 300 school children in Deraa being dragged to one of Syria’s dark prisons for the “crime” of writing graffiti calling for freedom.
The uprising hasn’t turned out as the people hoped. Three years later, starving people are braving government sniper fire to forage for leaves and berries to feed their families.
A new report from Amnesty International released Monday tells how an uprising that began with the detention of children has become one where starvation is being used as a weapon of war.
This report focuses on the situation in Yarmouk, where the siege has had the harshest impact and has caused the largest number of deaths from starvation. When the current crisis began, Yarmouk was home to the country’s largest Palestinian refugee community. Thousands of people displaced by fighting elsewhere in of Syria have since arrived to seek shelter there.
The report documents one story of a body of a 16-year-old boy brought lifeless to the hospital after being shot dead by snipers while he was foraging for berries to feed his starving family in the besieged community of Yarmouk. The boy’s father said he “died for the sake of bringing hibiscus leaves for your brothers and sisters.”
While both sides of the conflict are responsible for besieging civilians in violation of international law, Amnesty documents repeated evidence of the Assad government attacking civilians, hospitals, mosques and schools with heavy weapons and blocking access to humanitarian aid.
Nearly 200 individuals since the siege was tightened in July 2013 and access to crucial food and medical supplies was cut off. According to Amnesty International’s research, 128 of those who have died starved to death. Twelve infants under 12 months old are among the deceased.
[pullquote text=”With international support, this can be the week when Syria begins to move from darkness to light.”]One resident of Yarmouk told Amnesty International researchers, “The last time I ate vegetables was more than eight months ago.” Another said he had “not eaten fruit for seven months, nor vegetables for six months,” but had eaten a plant known as bird’s foot trefoil that is usually eaten by cows and other livestock.
Other residents have also eaten this plant but some have suffered an allergic reaction, including bloating, as a result. Cases of food poisoning and other illnesses became common as many people have been forced to exist on a diet of leaves and weeds. In desperation, some have killed and eaten cats and dogs, a practice reportedly permitted through a fatwa issued by local sheikhs, in some cases suffering food poisoning as a result.
In this week, the third anniversary of the uprising, Amnesty International is also joining with other organizations to shine a light on the humanitarian situation there and demand that the world take action to stand with Syria. We are calling on the United Nations Security Council to end the suffering of the Syrian people and implement its Resolution No. 2139 calling for all sides in the conflict to provide free and unfettered access for food and medical supplies. Take action here.
And throughout the week, Amnesty International member will hold vigils around the world to show solidarity with the Syrian people. In Washington, D.C., Amnesty International will join a vigil held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. The vigil will light up iconic D.C. sites, including the Lincoln and Martin Luther King memorials to reflect the theme of shining light on Syria.
The worldwide efforts can be followed on a special website, with-syria.org. Several Amnesty members holding their own vigils this week are contributing photos of their events to let the Syrian people see they are not alone.
Three years after the uprising, the lesson remains the international community must not become paralyzed, even as the desperation of the Syrian people increases and the stalemate at the U.N. Security Council appears unyielding.
Amnesty International’s documentation is keeping alive the truth of the human rights abuses within the country, and that truth will out sometime in the future in international tribunals. Our refugee work is improving lives, and stopping sexual assaults in refugee camps and providing asylum for Syrians in the United States. Our work on humanitarian aid is necessary to assisting aid groups in their efforts. And our highlighting of Syrian prisoners of conscience is helping human rights defenders.
With international support, this can be the week when Syria begins to move from darkness to light.