The atrocities committed against civilians in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, could not have occurred without systemic international failure.
That is one of the conclusions of the Tenth Siege Watch report published today by PAX.
"The ending of the siege of Eastern Ghouta was both foreseeable and preventable, yet the international community failed to take meaningful steps to protect civilians," says PAX's Marjolein Wijninckx.
The report documents the unmitigated human suffering and blatant contempt for international law during Syrian government’s final offensive against Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian government and its allies acted with impunity as they committed massive crimes against civilians in Eastern Ghouta.
Part of broader strategy
The Siege Watch report published today describes the final offensive against Eastern Ghouta, between February – April this year. The death, destruction, and displacement were not side effects of the fighting between two warring parties; they were essential components of the Syrian government’s military strategy. Demographic engineering – achieved in large part through systematic forced population transfers and the creation of obstacles to return – is seen by the Syrian government as necessary to cement its survival in the long term. The newly ratified Law no. 10 will allow the government to “legally” confiscate the property of the displaced on a massive scale and ensure that their exile is permanent.
The final attack
All of the victims of the siege of Eastern Ghouta remain traumatized, vulnerable, and under-supported. During the final offensive against Eastern Ghouta, at least 1,700 people were killed, 5,000 injured and 158,000 displaced. At least eight suspected chemical attacks were launched, killing an estimated 45 civilians and injuring nearly 700. More than 65,000 people, most of them civilians, were forcibly displaced to Idlib and Aleppo in northern Syria. After capitulation, as pro-government forces moved in, there were reports of field executions, detentions, threats, and widespread looting. Thousands of men from Eastern Ghouta were forced into mandatory military service. Roughly 200,000 people remained in the enclave, about half of the estimated population from before the offensive began, and just 18% of the area’s pre-war population.
It's not over
PAX warns that the Syrian government will continue its campaign to force people into submission even after the fighting ends. All the victims and survivors of the Eastern Ghouta siege still require international protection and support. The international community and humanitarian agencies operational in Syria must therefore recognize that “post-surrender” does not mean “post-conflict,” and respond accordingly.