About the Siege Watch
The Siege Watch project monitors and reports on Syria’s besieged areas using data collected on a monthly basis from an extensive network of reporting contacts on the ground. Background information and updates on each besieged community are shared in the Siege Watch interactive map, and through in-depth quarterly reports, thus ensuring that the international community has access to timely, accurate information on the ongoing sieges. The deliberate starvation of civilians and other aspects of the sieges are war crimes under international law and violate UN Security Council Resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2254 (2015), and 2258 (2015).
Siege Watch is a joint initiative of peace organisation PAX and The Syria Institute. Active monitoring for the project began in late 2015.
What are the ‘besieged areas’ of Syria?
Despite several UN Security Council resolutions calling for unobstructed humanitarian access, the Syrian regime – and in some cases ISIS and armed opposition groups – continue to besiege neighborhoods and towns across the country. A siege occurs when armed forces cut off access to a populated area, blocking the entry of food and medicine and preventing the free movement of civilians into or out of the area, including the evacuation of people in need of urgent medical care. Electricity and water supplies to the besieged areas are often cut off, and they are further subjected to violent attacks including airstrikes, barrel bombs, chemical attacks, ballistic missiles, mortar and rocket fire, sniping, and ground force offensives.
In Syria, this military tactic has been applied systematically against civilian populations by the Syrian government as a form of collective punishment against areas it does not control. The result is a man-made humanitarian disaster with hundreds of thousands of victims, some who have been trapped for three years. Because this crisis is physically contained, many people in the outside world are not even aware that these sieges are being conducted.
Why is monitoring these areas important?
The March 2015 Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) report ‘Slow Death: Life and Death in Syrian Communities Under Siege‘, demonstrated that the situation is far worse than reported by UN OCHA, whose monthly reporting on humanitarian access issues in Syria is presented in the UN Secretary-General’s monthly reports to the UN Security Council. This monthly UN reporting plays an important role in framing the international community’s understanding of the situation on the ground, and by extension, in shaping the urgency and nature of its response. Unfortunately, the UN OCHA reporting fails to recognize dozens of besieged Syrian communities and underestimates the total number of people living under siege by more than 600,000. Decisions to add or remove communities from the besieged list are applied inconsistently and without justification, presenting a distorted view of the situation on the ground.
The Siege Watch project aims to publish more accurate data that can be used by the international community as an alternative or supplement to the problematic UN OCHA information. Increasing international awareness of the situation on the ground is an important step towards bringing and end to Syria’s sieges and holding the perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Ending the sieges should be a high-priority confidence building measure for the international negotiations to bring an end to the war.
How are we gathering our information?
For the Siege Watch project, information on each besieged community is gathered on a monthly basis from reporting contacts on the ground. In most cases, the reporters are affiliated with a Local Council, which already has processes in place to document the conditions of the siege such as deaths, changes in access, and price fluctuations. In some instances a Local Council partner could not be identified and an alternative local civil authority, such as a medical office or citizen journalists reporting network, has been used instead. In several of the more rural besieged areas, the remaining populations are so low and communications have become so difficult that no reporting partner was available. These cases are duly noted in the interactive map. All reporting sources are voluntary participants in this project, and none have been paid for their data.
If you have any additional questions about our processes or products, feel free to contact us at info -at- syriainstitute -dot- org. Please note that due to the safety concerns of our sources on the ground, we are unable to share their names or contact information without their permission.