A civilian population under a prolonged siege, no access for the humanitarian agencies, no way out and the separation of women and men. The Syrian city of Homs 2014 or the Bosnian city of Srebrenica 1995?

In the besieged city of Srebrenica in 1995, while the international community and U.N. peacekeepers looked on, Serb forces strategically were able to separate the men from women and ended up killing thousands of men in the Srebrenica massacre. Mass killings and executions took us by surprise. And afterwards, the international community wrung its hands and asked: How could we let it happen?

In Geneva January 2014, representatives from the Syrian authority and the opposition coalition are negotiating or consulting on the fragile future of Syria. As the negotiation currently takes place without the involvement or consultations with women and civil society organisations, they are not allowed to provide first hand accounts on the civilian impact of the conflict nor gender analysis of the proposals discussed. Instead the latest “offer” or “progress” in the negotiations is that Syrian government will allow trapped women and children to immediately leave the old city of Homs, and request a list of all male civilians in the area, as Lakhdar Brahimi announced in a press conference a few days ago.

Thirteen neighbourhoods in the old city of Homs have been under siege since June 9, 2012. No entry for the humanitarian organisations no food or medical supply has so far been allowed in to the civilian population. The needs are tremendous, and the women and men of Homs are waiting for some relief to the situation.

Several possibilities have been discussed between the Regime authorities, humanitarian agencies present, Homs local council and representatives from the old city. Reports given to WILPF from women and civil society inside Homs say merely humanitarian aid without a long-term plan are likely to prolong the catastrophic situation. Humanitarian corridors are likely to be highly militarised in both ends, by both the regime forces and the militarised opposition groups.

The evacuation of women and children is the worst possible scenario, because it is a win-win situation for the regime only and could strategically open up for massacre of the remaining men similar to Srebrenica. Many women have already refused to leave as they expect an escalation of violence. The Homs council and the representatives are facing an impossible situation because by evacuating women and children the regime will have the right to attack everyone else left inside of the old city, the civilians have been evacuated so the rest are just armed rebels, only “terrorists” according to the regime. The regime will in addition have full control of the access as the aid enters into the area.

Have the international community not learned from their past mistakes or analysis? Shall we again sit back and wait for the possible worst outcome, and then ask: “how could we let it happen”? Unlike in Homs, which international observers are barred from entering, Srebrenica had international monitors and was a declared “safe area”.

WILPF urges that:
  • The Syrian Government must facilitate and allow for humanitarian access to the city of Homs in accordance with international humanitarian law (see UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182 (1991) – Guiding Principles on Humanitarian Assistance)
  • Directly include women civil society organisations with access to information on the situation in Homs in the analysis of the humanitarian situation and response mechanisms (in accordance with UNSCR 1325 and 2122)
  • Under NO circumstances allow for the separation of women and men in the old city of Homs, that would create preconditions for attacks on remaining male population.