Deliberate starvation and war crimes in Yarmouk

In Yarmouk just a few years ago you could never go hungry. A place which began as a Palestinian refugee camp in 1948 developed into a bustling commercial hub. Now, it’s no longer a sanctuary but the scene of some of the worst atrocities of the Syrian uprising.

Today in Yarmouk, the men, women and children trapped there survive by foraging among the rubble for food, by eating weeds and cactus leaves and drinking water mixed with spices. A recent fatwa ruling said that it is permissible to eat cats and dogs. 60 per cent of people inside Yarmouk are suffering from malnutrition. Food is in such short supply that a kilo of rice can cost up to $100.

The camp has been under siege since July 2013, surrounded by the Syrian army while 17,000 – 20,000 Palestinians and Syrians struggle to survive inside. Amnesty's new report highlights the humanitarian crimes against the people in Yarmouk.

No-one is allowed to enter or leave. The electricity was cut over a year ago and the camp was besieged under a ‘starve or submit’ policy. At the same time, and in violation of international law, the Syrian armed forces have carried out repeated attacks using indiscriminate and devastating barrel bombs, MiG fighter planes and sniper attacks. While aid has been able to enter intermittently the last food parcels were delivered by UNRWA on 28 February.

194 civilians have died in Yarmouk since the siege was tightened in July 2013. 128 starved to death, 10 were killed by snipers (at least two whilst searching for food), and 51 have died as a result of inadequate medical care. 12 were babies under 12 months, while a further 6 were children aged one and over.

These statistics are people and they add up to war crimes.

While the situation is Yarmouk is particularly horrifying, and the photograph of a sea of hungry faces waiting for aid parcels above went viral around the world. But this is not an isolated case in Syria. Eastern Ghouta and parts of Homs and al-Hassaka are besieged by Syrian government forces and affiliated armed groups. Aleppo villages Zahraa and Nobl are surrounded by opposition groups.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on 22 February that humanitarian access needs to be allowed immediately to enter Syria and particularly Yarmouk and other areas under siege, with “further steps to be taken in the event of non-compliance.” Until the Secretary General reports back after a 30 day period it is hard to assess whether the resolution is having much effect on the ground.

Since the UN resolution however, Yarmouk suffered four days of intensive shelling between 2 and 6 March by the Syrian armed forces after members of two armed opposition groups retreated into Yarmouk.

We must put as much pressure as possible on the Syrian Government and opposition forces to make it clear that attacks like this - war crimes - are completely unacceptable. Amnesty continues to call for an assets freeze and travel ban upon key figures, an arms embargo to the Syrian Government and other armed groups implicated in human rights abuses, and a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

This Saturday will be the third anniversary of the uprising in Syria and we need you to stand in solidarity #WithSyria. We must remind everyone that the world is watching and that the bloodshed must end, humanitarian assistance must be allowed in, and peace talks must be committed to. If you can, join us on 13 March at Trafalgar Square, and whether you can make it or not, please sign Amnesty’s petition to the UN Security Council.

Hannah Slater is our Syria Country Coordinator

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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