Bachelet sounds alarm on plight of Syrian civilians in Daraa amid continuing hostilities
Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice
Geneva, 8 August 2021
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has raised the alarm about the plight of civilians in and around the city of Daraa in southern Syria, which is witnessing fierce fighting and indiscriminate shelling by Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups, making it impossible for civilians to leave these areas except only through a single road that is stiflingly controlled by the Syrian government.
Bachelet said in a statement published by the Media Center of the Human Rights Council in Geneva: “The stark picture emerging from Daraa al-Balad and other neighbourhoods underscores how much at risk civilians there are, repeatedly exposed to fighting and violence, and in effect under siege. They are facing checkpoints, restrictions on their movements, tanks on the streets and their property is being seized and stolen.”
The High Commissioner added that hostilities escalated between government forces and armed groups at the end of July, with artillery shelling residential areas. The situation worsened after weeks of growing tension, during which the government tightened controls on the roads leading to the neighborhoods of Daraa al-Balad, one of the former strongholds of the opposition, and on other areas, with the aim of putting pressure on some members of the armed groups to surrender, hand over weapons, and move to northern Syria.
“Government forces have strengthened their military positions in Daraa al-Balad and stationed tanks in residential areas. In recent days, they have only been allowing pedestrians out of Daraa al-Balad along the al-Saraya road, subjecting people to strict security checks. Members of armed opposition groups have launched counter-attacks on several areas in rural Daraa Governorate, reportedly capturing dozens of Government soldiers. It is the most serious confrontation since 2018 when Government forces established control over Daraa following various Russian-brokered reconciliation deals,” Bachelet added.
Bachelet noted that with the outbreak of violence last week, the UN Human Rights Office documented the killing of at least eight civilians in alleged ground strikes by Syrian government forces and armed groups. Among the dead, five members of the same family were killed in a strike that hit their home in The town of al-Yadouda in the western countryside of Daraa, and at least one mortar shell fired by unidentified gunmen hit Daraa National Hospital in Daraa al-Mahatta, causing damage to it.
“Among other incidents confirmed by the UN Human Rights Office, Government forces seized and occupied several private homes in the areas of Shamal al-Khat, al-Panorama and al-Sabeel in Daraa al-Mahatta, expelling the occupants and not allowing them to take any of their belongings. These forces also stole money, mobile phones and laptops during searches of at least nine private houses on 30 and 31 July in Daraa al-Mahatta,” she confirmed.
The statement indicated that the escalation of hostilities has forced at least 18,000 civilians to flee from Daraa al-Balad since July 28, and many of them fled to Daraa city itself and to neighboring areas. Among them are hundreds of people sheltering in schools in Daraa al-Mahatta.
“I remind the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular as regards the protection of civilians, and under international human rights law. Tanks in residential areas and a checkpoint set up in a house strongly suggest the necessary precautions are not being taken,”
“There needs to be an immediate ceasefire to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Daraa. I also call on the parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian relief,” Bachelet added.