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Prevent Homs from Being Another Srebrenica

30 January 2014

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.

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Melissa Torres


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


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


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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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.

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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.

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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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