[JURIST] Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland [official website] on Thursday stated [transcript] that the interruption of water that has left millions of Syrians without clean access to water constitutes a war crime. The secretary, who acts as chair for the UN/ISSG Task Force on Humanitarian Access in Syria, made the statement during a press conference where the adviser said that more than 5.5 million people are experiencing water shortages where around 30 percent of water functions have been restored. The adviser stated that Syria is still very much a battleground, and the UN is trying to do investigate the situation more.
To sabotage and deny water is of course a war crime because it is civilians who drink it, and civilians who will be affected by waterborne and other diseases, if it is not restored. I am disappointed that so far the cessation of hostilities that is holding in so many places is not increasing our access. Why isn't there access? Well, there is a whole web of obstacles really; not only do we need approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Damascus, we need it from the Governo's office, from the Security Committee of the region, from the security forces involved, and from the armed groups inside. All of them have to allow us access, and it only takes one of them to deny us access. We are routinely still denied access, and we hope that the cessation of hostilities and the guarantors can change that. It has not so far.The war in Syria [JURIST backgrounder] continues to have a devastating impact, particularly for the war torn region of Aleppo. Last month the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to establish an independent panel to investigate possible war crimes [JURIST report] in Syria. Earlier in December UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein accused Syrian pro-government forces of going door to door and systematically killing civilians [JURIST report] in at least four Aleppo neighborhoods. The Russian/Syrian coalition committed war crimes in Aleppo during September and October, Human Rights Watch said [JURIST report] in early December. In November a group of German lawyers announced [JURIST report] the filing of charges against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, alleging that he committed war crimes in Aleppo.