Picture source: Reuters Agency
GENEVA (21 February 2018)
Since the Syrian Government and their allies escalated their offensive against opposition-held Eastern Ghouta on 4 February, there have been more than 1,200 civilian casualties, including at least 346 killed and 878 injured, mostly in airstrikes hitting residential areas, according to reports documented by the UN Human Rights Office.
Ninety-two of these civilian deaths allegedly occurred in just one 13-hour period on Monday. These figures are far from comprehensive, representing only those cases the UN Human Rights Office has managed to document in the midst of the chaos and destruction in Eastern Ghouta.
Dozens of airstrikes and hundreds of ground-based strikes reportedly hit residential areas in many parts of besieged Eastern Ghouta on Monday and Tuesday, and have continued into Wednesday. Destruction of houses has led to the displacement of many civilians in areas where there is no safe haven. According to reports, civilians, particularly women and children, live in a state of panic, seeking shelter underground where they are largely deprived of food and sanitation.
“These are hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been trapped for over five years under siege, suffering deprivation of their most basic needs, and are now facing relentless bombing. How much cruelty will it take before the international community can speak with one voice to say enough dead children, enough wrecked families, enough violence, and take resolute, concerted action to bring this monstrous campaign of annihilation to an end?” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.
“Already overwhelmed medical facilities have been repeatedly hit, meaning the hundreds of people with extremely severe injuries face a slow and painful death without adequate emergency medical care. All parties to this senseless conflict have a responsibility to ensure that these people receive the care they need.”
Zeid stressed that medical facilities enjoy special protection under international law. Parties to the conflict have an obligation to take all necessary measures to protect and not to damage medical units, and to ensure that military objectives are not placed near them.
“International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfil political or military objectives.”
A dramatic escalation of ground-based strikes against Government-controlled Damascus and Rural Damascus was also reported, affecting the old city, central residential and other areas. Since February 14, the UN Human Rights Office has documented 15 civilian deaths and 51 injured civilians reportedly due to ground-based strikes in these areas.
High Commissioner Zeid echoed the urgent calls of other senior UN officials for an immediate cessation of hostilities and stressed the imperative of granting immediate humanitarian access and ensuring swift facilitation of evacuations of the sick and wounded, as well as civilians wishing to leave. He added that any political agreement regarding Eastern Ghouta must be in conformity with international human rights law and international humanitarian law. No forced displacement of civilians should take place as a result of such a political agreement.
The High Commissioner also reiterated his plea to the international community to ensure accountability for the ongoing violations, many of which may amount to war crimes.