The latest report from the UN independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria outlines the harrowing suffering of the 422,000 people living in besieged areas of the country.
“Siege warfare is conducted in a ruthlessly coordinated and planned manner, aimed at forcing a population, collectively, to surrender or suffer starvation,” the report stated, adding that the denial of basic necessities “has led to malnutrition and deaths amongst vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, infants, young children and persons suffering from chronic illnesses.”
According to UN figures, there are 167,500 people besieged by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya in the Damascus suburbs; more than 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra in Aleppo as well Foua’a and Kafria in Idlib; and 228,000 people by ISIL in the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Dayr al-Zawr city.
The sieges of Ghouta and Darayya are now in their third year.
“Civilian residents in these areas have died from starvation, from injuries sustained in aerial bombardments and, as a consequence, from a lack of medical care. A majority of pregnant women in the besieged areas suffer from anaemia, and cases of miscarriage and birth defects have increased noticeably,” the report, which was released on Thursday in Geneva, stated.
The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”
The report said the situation in the besieged areas of Idlib was “particularly dire” with acute shortages of milk for infants.
The more than 220,000 besieged people living under ISIS in populated areas of Dayr Az-Zawr city for the past year, which remains under government control, “have survived on bread and water,” the report said.
Access to clean water is limited in these areas, according to the report, and cases of diarrhoea, dehydration and gastrointestinal diseases are increasing.
Among other details in the report was a case in March of a father in Idlib who drowned when attempting to swim across the Euphrates River from a besieged area to find food for his children.
Indiscriminate violence continues in these areas, with snipers targeting and killing civilians trying to escape, including children.
Hunger and malnutrition is rising in besieged areas and resulting in death.
“In April, a 13-year-old girl died of hunger in Al-Joura. Another teenage girl cried out to her brother in a telephone call, ‘Our situation is very bad, just pray to God that he will stop the siege or that he will let us die… because we cannot take this anymore,'” the report stated.
In the Yarmouk refugee camp for Palestinians, the commission reports that “interviewees from inside Yarmouk camp describe eating domestic animals and leaves in an attempt to survive. In April, it was estimated that 40 per cent of the children remaining in Yarmouk suffer from malnutrition.”
UN and other relief agencies have only been able to reach 1.8 percent of the population in besieged areas with medical assistance while no food aid reached any besieged area through official routes last month, according to a report by Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council last week.
Black market economies are also on the increase in besieged areas.
“Consequently, sieges are also a business for those enforcing them and for the most well-connected trapped inside,” the commission of inquiry report said. “In most instances, armed actors remain able to function. It is the civilian population who suffers.”
The report from the independent commission covers January 10 – July 15 this year and is based on 355 interviews. The members of the commission are Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair, Karen Koning AbuZayd, Vitit Muntarbhorn and Carla Del Ponte.
The report also covers the situation of detainees, religious and ethnic communities, women, children, medical personnel, human rights defenders and lawyers.
In their conclusion, the commissioners state, “It is thus unconscionable that the global community, as well as regional and local actors, are prevaricating in their response to a conflagration which has been escalating since 2011.”
– Denis Fitzgerald