Nuhanovic Foundation

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PAX & The Syria Institute; Fifth Quarterly Report on besieged areas in Syria, November 2016 – January 2017





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This fifth edition of Siege Watch quarterly reports documents the conditions of Syrian communities living in 37 besieged areas and 16 zones under threat of complete siege, between November 2016 and January 2017. The report focuses on a developed analysis of a few of the besieged communities. It provides valuable information on each situation including maps, numbers of people affected, dates of offensive actions, siege classification, humanitarian and political developments, potential forced surrender negotiations, and photos.

The report denunciates the intensification of the violence faced by all of the besieged communities over the reporting period, and this, despite the late 2016 ceasefire. The report points out the responsibility of the Syrian government and its allies, in the majority of the sieges and in all the areas classified as ‘Watchilist’ areas. The government employs their newly-adopted ‘surrender or die’ strategy in which communities are forced to make a devastating choice: either concede to abusive forced-surrender terms and partial population transfers, or resist and face complete destruction and depopulation’. Moreover, not only the number of besieged communities is extremely alarming, but also the rapid deterioration of their living conditions. Indeed most of the besieged communities remain out of the UN assistance’s reach. Click here for more detail on the classification of besieged areas.

The report insists on the great importance and value of accurate and consistent reporting, urging that mapping the full scale of sieges throughout Syria would enable a better understanding of their nature and the necessity of an urgent response. The report denounces the lack of transparency of, in particular,  the UN’s reporting process, and emphasises the need for improvements that would allow their reports to better reflect the reality on the ground. The UN’s inconsistent designation of besieged areas, including many that meet all of their own criteria for classifying as under seige, ‘means that alarm bells do not always ring quickly or loudly enough’ to trigger the necessary response to emergencies. This in turn leads to a dangerous distrust towards the UN agencies operating in Syria.

Finally, PAX and TSI conclude with key recommendations:

  1. The UNSC must enforce its Resolution 2139 ‘to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas”, and impose further measures in case of non-compliance.
  2. UN agencies should send, if requested by one of the parties, monitors to control the negotiations and implementation of local forced surrender agreements, and actively condemn the forced civilian transfers (often part of these agreements).
  3. Immediately when a community has been forced to surrender, international monitors should be deployed to prevent human rights and international humanitarian law violations.
  4. The UN OCHA designation of besieged communities should ‘be moved out of the Damascus hub’. Moreover data should be analysed free from political pressures.
  5. War crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the framework of sieges, such as starvation and forced displacement of populations, must be incorporated in the accountability mechanism that will be established in accordance with the December 21, 2016, UNGA Resolution.

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