Final Siege Watch report: Out of sight, out of mind: the Aftermath of Syria’s Sieges
The final Siege Watch report, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: the Aftermath of Syria’s Sieges,” published today, offers a summary of six years of sieges and considers the current needs of the victims. The report draws conclusions about the strategy of sieges, and offers recommendations – both about what to do now to help the fate of the victims, but also what the international community can do in the future to protect civilians.
“Many sieges ended in forced population transfers, a war crime,” says PAX programme lead Marjolein Wijninckx. “Hundreds of thousands of siege victims are today displaced in northern Syria or in exile in Turkey or other countries. While the regime that forcibly displaced them is in power, they cannot return home or claim their property rights.”
Besieged areas still being punished
For the Assad regime and its allies, the siege strategy was effective. Today, Assad and his allies control all the areas once under siege. But the regime continues to restrict humanitarian access to these areas and limits freedom of movement of people from these areas. It also targets these communities with repressive tactics such as arrest campaigns. “It is crucial that independent monitoring takes place in formerly besieged areas,” says Wijninckx. “Humanitarian actors should exert more pressure to get access to these areas. Their first priorities must be civilian protection and support to siege victims.”
Six years of sieges
Two-and-a-half million people, or ten percent of the pre-war Syrian population, were victims of sieges, of a man-made humanitarian disaster of historic proportions. These military and economic blockades were imposed on civilian populations, and forced people to live cut off from electricity and running water, deprived of food, fuel, medical supplies and other basic necessities. Hospitals, schools, markets and relief supplies were targets of attack. Many besieged communities were subjected to devastating attacks, and some were demolished under scorched earth campaigns. This was all part of a premediated, carefully executed strategy of war.
International donors will come together in Brussels next week to pledge support for Syria and neighbouring countries. PAX urges them to secure health services, psycho-social support and access to education for siege survivors inside and outside Syria. European countries should also support siege victims to achieve accountability and justice, including support for international accountability mechanisms such as the Independent, Impartial and Independent Mechanism set up by the UN to investigate and prosecute crimes committed during the war. European countries should also expand the possibilities for universal jurisdiction, and ensure funding for Syrian organisations working on justice.
PAX launches 'Crunch Time' today at the UN in Geneva. The report provides an overview of the positions of European states on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), also known as 'killer robots'. The report finds that there is a general agreement that there is a ‘red line’ beyond which increasing autonomy in weapons systems is no longer acceptable. European states also agree that there must be human control over the use of force and that there is a need to work towards concrete policy outcomes.
About 2.2 million Syrians, the vast majority of them civilians, have been forcibly moved to Idlib province during the course of the war in Syria, according to the 10th and final quarterly Siege Watch report, published today. That includes more than 110,000 people expelled after the forced surrender agreements of northern Homs countryside and various suburbs around Damascus, including Eastern Ghoutha, this past spring. For the second time in just a few months, these civilians are facing devastation.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons, also known as killer robots. The resolution stresses the importance of preventing the development and production of such weapon systems and calls for the start of negotiations on an international treaty that would prohibit lethal autonomous weapon systems. The adoption of this resolution sends a strong message to maintain human control over weapons systems.
“How long before we will see the first AK-47 version of an armed drone?” Wim Zwijnenburg of Dutch peace organisation PAX and one of the leading researchers connected with The European Forum on Armed Drones (EFAD ) warns that the threshold to employ armed drones becomes lower. He launched a report at the Fourth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in Japan.
A group of concerned citizens in South Sudan warns that the situation in the country is likely to become even worse unless a genuine, inclusive political process can be started immediately. The group says South Sudan’s internal conflicts cannot be settled by war, but must be settled through political dialogue based on a shared vision for a peaceful future in which the South Sudanese are united in diversity. The Concerned Citizen’s Network for Peace (CCNP) therefore calls upon the wisdom of the leaders of all South Sudanese parties to act for the general good of all citizens.
PAX has won the prestigious Green Star Award for responding to environmental crises resulting from armed conflict. The Green Star Award was established by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Environment (UNEP) and the Green Cross and is presented every other year to three organizations for preparing for and responding to environmental emergencies. PAX won the category Response for leadership in the protection of civilians from environmental pollution during war and armed conflict and commitment to building peace with justice.