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UN: Deliberate Starvation of Syrian Civilians May Be War Crime

  • Lisa Schlein

People line up for bread in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, July 14, 2016.

People line up for bread in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, July 14, 2016.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, warns the deliberate starvation of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians by government and opposition forces may constitute a war crime.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra-ad al Hussein said he is increasingly alarmed about the desperate situation of at least 200,000 civilians trapped in three towns in Syria.

He said the northern city of Aleppo, the town of Darayya, near the capital, Damascus, and the town of Manbij, in the eastern rural area of Aleppo Governorate, are being battered by Syrian and rebel forces, as well as by the terrorist Islamic State group and the al-Nusra Front.

The high commissioner’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, said scores of civilians have been killed and injured by airstrikes and ground strikes, as well as by landmines laid by IS in some areas.

Colville said Zeid is urging all the forces advancing to take great care not to harm the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in conflict zones.

“He said the country is already a gigantic, devastated graveyard," said Colville. "The number of war crimes already committed surpasses the worst nightmares; but, it is in the power of both attacking and defending forces — and their foreign backers — to minimize further civilian casualties and avoid further crimes and atrocities. And, they must do so.”

The high commissioner said the city of Aleppo is cut off from the outside world and supplies of food, water and medicine are running out.

He said the town of Darayya has been under siege for more than four years and people are starving. He says a reign of terror exists in the Manbij, which has no electricity, water or medical facilities.

Colville said the warring factions must make sure these besieged populations receive food and water.

“The intentional starvation of civilians is a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, and may constitute a war crime," he said. "Those responsible for such violations should be held criminally accountable.”

High Commissioner Zeid acknowledges that Syria’s warring factions may have become so brutalized they do not care about the innocent women, children and men whose lives are in their hands; but he warned one day there will be a reckoning for the crimes they have committed.