UN rights chief: situation increasingly desperate for 200,000 trapped in Syrian towns
UN rights chief: situation increasingly desperate for 200,000 trapped in Syrian towns

[JURIST] According to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, 200,000 civilians stuck in three Syrian towns are in grave danger [press release] as attacking forces draw near. Opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo, following recent airstrikes over the past few months, have lost around 10,000 to 30,000 civilians, who have fled, leaving at least 150,000 civilians “effectively totally trapped.” Opposition shelling of government-held areas of Aleppo have further endangered these civilians, with 44 being killed between July 8 and 9. These citizens face not only death and injury from further airstrikes and military offensives, but also “minimal supplies of food, water, and medicine” running out. Zeid also expressed concern about thousands now in a similar situation in Darayya, in Western Ghouta. The some 8,000 civilians have been condensed to one square kilometre of “devastated urban ruin” with “no electricity, virtually no water and even less access to food than before.” These civilians also face the threat of airstrikes and Zeid stated his discontent with what may happen to them if the city falls to the attacking forces. Finally, Zeid stated that he was perhaps most concerned with the situation Manbij in the eastern rural area of Aleppo Governorate, where the conflict between ISIL and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has intensified. Caught directly between the two fighting parties, civilians have been killed through airstrikes, ground offensives, and landmines. As SDF continues to move in on ISIL forces, civilians have been refused the ability to flee, leaving them without access to water, electricity, and cemeteries to bury their dead and killed relatives. Those killed in Manbij are believed to be in the dozens and the number of war crimes and human rights violations “surpasses the worst nightmares.” Zeid called upon those in conflict to limit any further civilian casualties and further war crimes. He also urged those parties to “ensure that the fundamental needs of the besieged population such as food and water are met,” stating that if they choose to ignore such needs “there will be a reckoning for all these crimes.”

The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] has been ongoing since 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and the increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. In March AI reported that Russian and Syrian armed forces were deliberately attacking hospitals and other medical facilities as part of a military strategy to clear the way to northern Aleppo. Just prior, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed [press release] two resolutions calling for an international tribunal in the Middle East to address the alleged war crimes [JURIST report] committed by the government of Syria and its allies, specifically Russia and Iran. In February the UN reported that the Syrian government is systematically exterminating detainees [JURIST report]. In November Human Rights Watch released a report stating that the practice of caging captured soldiers and civilians constitutes hostage-taking [JURIST report] and an outrage against their personal dignity.