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Aleppo Is Bidding Humanity Goodbye

14 December 2016
Scene in Eastern Aleppo City, Syria. Photo: Ismael Abdulrahman /IDA.
Scene in Eastern Aleppo City, Syria. Photo: Ismael Abdulrahman /IDA.

(Read this statement in Arabic)

If you are active on Twitter or Facebook and follow global news, this is probably not the first text you have read on what is currently happening in Aleppo. But if it is, then brace yourself for the worst before reading what follows.

The northern Syrian city of Aleppo has been a key battleground in the conflict between the warring factions in Syria for the past four years. However, the latest developments since July 2016 have prompted a series of consecutive turning points in the city’s modern history, leading to its catastrophic destruction this week. Since the Syrian dictator and his foreign allies, including Russia and Iran, firmly encircled the eastern part of the city last September, Aleppo has been witnessing the most relentless, indiscriminate aerial bombardment since the peaceful revolution metastasised into a bloody conflict.

Local sources and international reports have drawn out a systematic pattern of explosive weapon attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies that particularly target medical facilities and schools, leading to extremely high civilian death tolls. The use of explosive weapons in Aleppo, including improvised devices such as barrel bombs, as well as prohibited weapons such as chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and incendiary weapons, has destroyed civilian infrastructure and created a humanitarian crisis. As more than 250,000 civilians became trapped under the besiegement enforced by the regime since July 2016, basic necessities such as food, fuel, and medication have been obliterated. The depravation of basic necessities has been used as a weapon of war, forcing civilians to rely on black markets to make ends meet.

Yet another turning point

This week’s events constitute yet another turning point for Aleppo. Local media sources have informally reported mass executions of civilians on the streets of Aleppo, including immolation of several women. The United Nations has reported that Syrian pro-government forces have been entering homes in eastern Aleppo and killing those inside. It also reported that it had “reliable evidence that in four areas 82 civilians were shot on the spot.” There are also reports of “military-aged males” being forcibly conscripted to the Syrian army, which is a classic but often overlooked form of gender-based violence. A UN human rights spokesperson has described the situation as a “complete meltdown of humanity”.

Regardless of how many reports and sources remain unconfirmed, the suggestions of persecution and retaliation, through rape, arrest, detention, disappearance, torture, and murder are likely to be realistic due to the history of the Assad regime’s violations of rights of civilians and prisoners of war.

Women remain disproportionately affected in Aleppo

Once again, women are suffering disproportionately and are in grave danger. According to local yet unconfirmed sources, several women have committed suicide in fear of being raped and sexually abused by pro-government forces. In addition, and amidst the wave of food scarcity, pregnant and breastfeeding women are facing life-threatening health repercussions. Some women are even being starved to death. While many women have become the sole breadwinners for their families, the scarcity of food and medication is making it difficult for them to secure basic needs for their surroundings. Without sanitary pads or clean water, women are also forced to take unsanitary measures during their menstrual cycles, causing health complications and severe infections.

Failure of the international community

One cannot but ask: where has the international community been throughout these recent developments? The answer is evident. The international community has been there all along; the humanitarians helpless in the face of State intransigence; world leaders insolently staring at and witnessing the worsening atrocities turn into war crimes and crimes against humanity, yet all too busy drafting condemnations and expressions of concern.

The crisis in Aleppo did not swiftly emerge this week; it is a protracted crisis and a manifestation of the collective failure and lack of action by the international community. World leaders have done little, to say the least, to end the slaughter and displacement of Syrian civilians. Most of them have been involved in worsening the situation, either by supporting war criminals or by engaging more significantly in arms transfers to Syria.

This crisis is nothing but a microcosm of how world powers are shaping the dynamics of the contemporary multilateral system: militarised major powers adopting an unethical and inhuman diplomacy that tolerates grave human rights violations in order to reap the profits of war and violence or to achieve some geostrategic or military “objective”. Aleppo will not be the sole victim of this political path, just as 1995 Srebrenica and 1982 Hama were not the last to be crushed by state violence and international indifference. As war criminals remain unpunished for crimes against humanity, the hope for justice, accountability, and victim compensation remains dim.

Re-strategising the feminist movement is a must

WILPF strongly believes that the international community needs to revise its approach towards combatting the total impunity for grave violations of civilians’ rights in Syria. We call on the international human rights and multilateral systems to move beyond condemnation and reporting, and to instead take effective and sustainable measures to save the lives of millions of Syrian civilians. The UN has an evacuation plan for Aleppo—the international community must help provide safe passage for people trapped in Aleppo.

We also believe that the feminist pacifist movement has a duty to regroup and develop strategies to change these ugly realities. We must not be passive observers as the world burns. We understand that there were ways to prevent this conflict, through cooperation, conciliation, peacebuilding, and disarmament and arms control. We are now faced with the total destruction of an ancient city, the gross violation of human rights, and a humanitarian catastrophe of nearly unprecedented proportions. We cannot keep saying “never again”. We must work to ensure it, now.

 

 

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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