Syria: Relentless bombing of civilians in Eastern Ghouta amounts to war crimes

Responding to the news of the escalating bombing campaign by the Syrian government and its ally Russia in Eastern Ghouta in Damascus countryside which has left scores dead and hundreds injured in the past month, Amnesty International’s Diana Semaan, Syria researcher, said:

“The Syrian government, with the backing of Russia, is intentionally targeting its own people in Eastern Ghouta. People have not only been suffering a cruel siege for the past six years, they are now trapped in a daily barrage of attacks that are deliberately killing and maiming them, and that constitute flagrant war crimes.

“For six years, the international community has stood by as the Syrian government has committed crimes against humanity and war crimes with total impunity.

“The United Nations Security Council must enforce its own resolutions which call for an end to sieges of civilian areas and attacks on civilians, and for unimpeded humanitarian access. Permanent members, including Russia, should not block measures to end and redress mass atrocities.

“It is imperative for the Security Council to send a strong message that there will be no impunity for those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. The catastrophe in Syria provides a textbook example of the high price paid by civilians for impunity for mass atrocities.

“All parties involved in the conflict must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and grant safe passage to civilians wanting to flee the area and allow unfettered access for humanitarian organizations, so that they are able to deliver lifesaving aid to the hundreds of thousands of people in need in Eastern Ghouta.”


Amnesty International has previously documented the unlawful siege and unlawful killing of civilians, including the use of internationally banned cluster munitions, in Eastern Ghouta by the Syrian government in violation of international humanitarian law.

The organization also documented violations of international humanitarian law by the armed opposition group, the Army of Islam, based in Eastern Ghouta including unlawful shelling of civilian areas in government-controlled areas and restricting the movement of civilians out of Eastern Ghouta.

This morning, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported that five civilians and 20 others were injured after shelling from Eastern Ghouta on the Damascus countryside.

Testimonies gathered by Amnesty International:
Medical staff bear witness to dire humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta

Amnesty International has gathered testimony from medical personnel in Eastern Ghouta who describe desperate scenes at hospitals, with staff overwhelmed by hundreds of casualties from the latest bombardments. Medical supplies have all but run out, air strikes pose an ever-present threat and worsening malnutrition is taking a terrible toll on children and adults.

A pediatrician, speaking on 16 February 2018:

“The situation in Eastern Ghouta is worse than words can say. We have been lacking the very basics for five years now, and today it is even worse. A while ago there were some smuggling routes, but today they are all closed. Ghouta is lacking food, clean drinking water, electricity, stove gas and fuel. The malnutrition cases we have are a shame to humanity. We live in a rich area a few kilometres away from the capital where everything is available, while children here are dying of malnutrition.

“The regime doesn’t allow in any medical supplies or medications; so we are suffering a severe lack of medical supplies, especially now. There used to be some smuggling, but now it’s over – we have run out of supplies for more than seven or eight months now. We feel drained as doctors due to the daily, heavy bombardment. The hospital I run received more than 150 injuries in one week only. To treat these cases we need a lot of serums, sterilisers and gauze which are very difficult to secure. We have used all our reserves. We are also short on medical personnel, and not all specialisations are available.

“As for the medical aid brought in by the UN, of course they need the regime’s permission, and the regime allows them in once every 10 months. If we tried to divide the medical supplies between the population, there is no way that it would be enough.”

A medical centre director, speaking on 16 February 2018:

“The situation in besieged Eastern Ghouta is a tragedy. As for doctors, may God help them. They are doing their best, but there is a severe lack of equipment and supplies, and hospitals in Eastern Ghouta are being heavily targeted for bombardment.

“We also have widespread cases of malnutrition among children and adults. Even nursing mothers aren’t able to nurse their babies because of malnutrition, because the food mostly consists of barley which we use to make bread. There are no nutritional supplements that can help women to nurse.”

The director of another medical centre, speaking on 17 February 2018:

“The medical situation in Ghouta is extremely bad: most medications and medical supplies are unavailable, and there is a lot of pressure on medical staff because of the continuous targeting of civilians. We are working 24 hours a day. In 10 days (1-10 February) we had more than 1,100 injuries that required surgery, first aid, medication and follow up care. Today, for instance, it was raining, so there were no airstrikes, but they shelled us with Golan rockets. They targeted civilians. They don’t target the war fronts. There are no armed fighters among the casualties – all the injured are civilians.”

“It’s also difficult for us as medical personnel to move around because we are being targeted – the whole city is being targeted.”