For Immediate Release
Hundreds of civilians began evacuating the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiya on Friday, piling into buses and heading for shelters in government-controlled neighborhoods nearby. The forced evacuation comes just a week after a similar evacuation emptied the nearby suburb Daraya, and today Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said those evacuations are a form of forced displacement that constitute war crimes.
“The Syrian government gave the people of Moadamiya two choices: either surrender or starve,” said PHR director of programs Widney Brown. “Nothing about this evacuation is voluntary, and nothing about this evacuation is legal. Under international law, both forced evacuations and besiegement, in which Moadamiya’s thousands of civilians are being deprived of vital food and medicine, are war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Opposition-controlled Moadamiya and its approximately 45,000 residents have been under siege since August of 2012. A series of local truces and temporary ceasefires allowed a limited amount of humanitarian supplies into the area under the auspices of the United Nations. But PHR said today those convoys provided insufficient aid and that Syrian government forces routinely stripped them of necessary medical equipment, including ventilators, midwifery kits, diarrhea treatment kits, and surgical supplies, despite condemnations of such practices from the UN Security Council.
“The people of Moadamiya, along with the nearly one million other Syrians under siege across the country, are living under conditions of total deprivation that have claimed countless lives and led to extreme suffering,” said PHR’s Brown. “It’s a deliberate strategy of the Syrian government: to slaughter its own people by bombing their homes, attacking hospitals, and starving them to death. The failure of the UN Security Council to prevent yet another atrocity is inexcusable.”
Along with confirmation this week that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on multiple occasions, the UN has previously said Moadamiya was subjected to a sarin gas attack in 2013. PHR has also documented an intentional Syrian government attack on one of the suburb’s medical clinics in November of 2012. This week, responding to reports that the United Nations aid channels have benefitted the Syrian government, the head of the UN humanitarian coordination office said his office is attempting to act impartially.
“For more than four years, people living in places like Moadamiya have suffered not because there is no aid but because the UN is allowing the government to decide if, when, and what aid is delivered,” said PHR’s Brown. “The UN hasn’t changed its game plan, has never acknowledged that its strategy isn’t working. And now we’re left to watch as the noose tightens around Syria’s civilian populations, damned to either die under siege or flee into the arms of a government that for years has tried to kill them.”
The evacuations from Moadamiya and Daraya have not been negotiated under the supervision of the United Nations, and the UN said it expects a similar pattern of evacuations from Moadamiya and other besieged areas to take place in the coming weeks. Today, news reports said approximately 300 people left Moadamiya, with remaining evacuations to take place over the next seven to 10 days.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.