The International Community’s dealing with the crime of the siege of Homs has set a negative precedent through its dealing with its results, and not looking at the crime of the siege itself and its perpetrators. In fact, the international community not only ignored the siege for a year and a half, but helped empty the city of Homs from its inhabitants through its contentment with only allowing limited help to enter the city and through embarrassingly limited attempts at stopping the continuous killing taking place, and stopping the siege in itself!
The siege of Homs
The siege on the neighbourhoods of Homs is counted as one of the longest periods of collective punishment in Syria during the revolution. The siege began in northern rural Homs on 25/5/2012, and began in the city on 7/6/2012, and then spread to western rural Homs on the 9/7/2013. The siege continues till the moment of the writing of this report.
The old neighbourhoods of Homs (Homs al-Qadima) are seen as those which have suffered the most from the siege, particularly due to the small number of secret routes leading to it (which assist in smuggling goods), as well as the high number of residents and the absence of its own resources such as farming, whereas this is less so in the northern and western rural areas of Homs.
The district of al-Wa’ar or Homs al-Jadida is also seen as one of the districts which has suffered the most in the siege, as the district has a very high population of residents reaching approximately 400,000 inhabitants before the siege began.
As in all districts, the siege has prohibited the entrance of any nutrition or medicine as well as other goods; and electricity, water and phone calls have all been cut off. These factors made it difficult to survive in these areas with the passing of time, and led to the displacement and migration of a large number of residents to other areas.
The Geneva Negotiations
The first round of the Geneva Conference began on 22/1/2014 with the aim of reaching a political solution in Syria with international backing. A delegation of the Syrian regime was present, as well as a delegation of the Syrian National Coalition.
The political discussions in Geneva centred around two main humanitarian issues: to break the siege on Homs, and release detainees. Whilst no progress was made on the second issue, the issue of the siege saw a number of developments made. However, these developments are limited to only a partial breakthrough of the siege.
With the first round of negotiations yielding no results, the second round resumed on the morning of 10/2/2014 till the afternoon of 16/2/2014, in which the UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi declared the failure of the talks due to the lack of cooperation from the Syrian regime delegation.
The truce of Homs began some days before the second round of negotiations began, and ended with the end of the negotiations.
The Humanitarian Cease-Fire: the entering of humanitarian aid and exit of civilians
On 6/2/2014, the UN announced that it had reached an agreement on a cease-fire in Homs for humanitarian reasons, which would allow civilians the chance to leave the city as well as allowing aid into the city. The UN spokesperson also announced that the agreement reached with the Syrian regime would allow vital help to reach approximately 2500 civilians.
According to the statements made by the UN, the agreement allowed children under 15 and men over the age of 55 as well as women to leave the city.
On the morning of 7/2/2014, the first vehicles of the “Syrian red crescent” entered the besieged areas in Homs al-Qadima, and in the evening of the same day, 83 civilians left, making them the first group of civilians to leave Homs in an official manner since the siege began.
By the evening of 9/2/2014, the number of those that had left the city reached 500, and on 13/2/2014, it was announced that 1417 residents had left the city.
The cease-fire operated only on a partial basis due to shelling and attacks which took place close to the UN vehicles between the Syrian regime and an opposing group. The Syrian Red Crescent said that on the 8/2/2014, mortar rockets attacked the vehicles in which humanitarian aid was being delivered as they drove towards Homs al-Qadima. These attacks caused the operation of migration of civilians to stop for two days. The operation resumed later.
The UN also announced that 500 food rations were taken into the besieged areas of Homs as well as approximately 6000kg of flour. However, activists’ insides Homs confirmed that the delivery of aid ended even before the cease-fire ended.
The Syrian security and army forces began to arrest civilians being evacuated from the siege, despite the fact that this was not agreed upon in the agreement which was drawn up with the UN. The forces began to arrest all those who left the besieged city.
On 18/2/2014, UNICEF called for the release of 56 children that were arrested among the civilians who were evacuated from Homs, including 12 children under the age of eight.
And on 21/2/2014, the Governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi, announced that “the situation of 38 civilians, who had been stopped upon their evacuation in order to study their situation, had been regularised”. He also added that there were still “195 people waiting for their situation to be regularised at centres in which they had been stopped”. He also said that “the stopping of young men in order to study whether they are armed or not, is best for them due to their inability to benefit from the presidential amnesty due to their presence in the besieged area. They can take advantage of the amnesty decree instead of being referred to the military judiciary since they have failed to carry out their military service”.
The governor also said that the authorities were “immediately carrying out these regularisations for people over 42 years of age as they were no longer required for military service”. However, the governor did not mention the reason for the detention of women, including girls under the age of 18 years, who are not required to do any military service!
The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had previously issued a decree in October 2013, the Legislative Decree 70 of 2013, issuing a general amnesty to those who had not carried out their military service on the condition that they hand themselves in within two months.
The Legal Status on Evacuating the Besieged
The besiegement of civilians in Homs and other cities is a crime against humanity, and this issue has been dealt with in a previous report by the Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC).
The international community’s treatment of this crime has left a negative precedent with the violations of human rights; on one side it avoided dealing with the siege as a crime by focussing on its outputs instead- in the same way it dealt with the chemical weapons- and on the other it helped the siege in fulfilling its aims by evacuating the families from the area which is one of the aims of the siege. This is instead of putting pressure on the Syrian regime to allow aid to enter the area.
It was not enough for the international community to deal negatively with the genocide taking place in Homs, but it attempted to ignore the side causing all the human suffering and not talk about them. At times, the international community accused the victims of besieging themselves. In a report by the Secretary General of the UN to the council on 27/1/2014, he mentioned that “the city of Homs al-Qadima is under siege due to regime forces and opposition armed groups since the beginning of 2012!”
It is without doubt that the international community’s repetitive overlooking of the violations of human rights taking place in Syria, and its focus on outputs instead of dealing with the violations and its perpetrators, has left a serious and negative impact on the Syrian citizen and human rights activists in international human right law. It has also indirectly encouraged further violence in Syria.
Allowing the evacuation of those besieged, and the organisation of this by the UN can cause the evacuation to be one which is non-voluntary, forcing residents to leave their homes. This is because the option of leaving Homs was made available, whilst (sufficient) humanitarian aid was not, all at the same time whilst the regime continued its continuous arbitrary shelling of the city. This can only lead to one forced solution.
In a statement released by the International Red Crescent on the 15/2/2014, the organisation called for the respect of international human rights law and mentioned that it will not take part in the non-voluntary evacuation of residents. The organisation also said that all sides must guarantee a safe corridor for the teams of the Red Cross and Red Crescent at all times.