May 8, 2014
The Violations Documentation Center (VDC) is one of the dwindling number of civil society organizations still operating inside Syria. Its “Weekly Martyr Reports” track violence and deaths around the country, with the Center’s activists painstakingly tallying names and causes of death even as basic commodities such as electricity and internet access become less reliable.
The VDC, based in a rebel-controlled Damascus suburb, continues its work despite pressure from militant Islamists and regime threats. One of its founders, Razan Zeitouneh, an internationally recognized human rights lawyer, was kidnapped last December along with her husband and two other associates. They have not been heard from since.
The VDC’s annual report looks at a year of casualties from March 2013 to March 2014. More than 40,000 Syrians were killed over that period, according to the report, up from 38,000 the year before. Nearly 15,000 of those killed were shot, with shelling as the second-leading cause of death.
Over the past year, at least 238 people died of starvation, a figure that VDC founder Bassam al-Ahmad says has already risen to 260 since mid-March.
Blockading areas that allow no food or movement in or out is a tactic the regime uses to force civilians to stop supporting and joining the rebels, al-Ahmad tells Kristen Gillespie. “The regime is using starvation as a weapon against civilians and children in rebellious Sunni areas, not against the fighters.”
Q: Do you believe the war is becoming more deadly for Syrians? Is the regime prepared to do anything to win?
There is a rise in casualty numbers this year, especially regarding civilians. The regime is ready to burn all of Syria to keep its power. The regime has committed hundreds of war crimes and hundreds of crimes against humanity. Lately the word genocide is being circulated widely.
Q: Is the regime winning?
Not on the ground. More than 50 percent of Daraa province is under rebel control along with a big part of Outer Damascus, a big part of Idlib province, Outer Homs, Outer Hama and big part of Aleppo. And most of a-Raqqa is under ISIS control.
Q: Do you think the fall of Homs will change anything?
Homs’s fall is a big blow for the revolution symbolically and militarily. We don’t have adequate information about the details, but Homs has a major symbolic meaning [for the opposition].
Q: Does the VDC look at starvation and how the regime is using that to take back rebel areas?
The regime is using starvation as a weapon against civilians and children in rebellious Sunni neighborhoods, not against the fighters. The regime wants to make people stop joining and supporting the fighting battalions. The starvation created by the regime is a war crime.
Q: Does the VDC see starvation as helping the regime? My information based on many interviews we have done is that starvation is the one thing people cannot take. Is hunger the weapon that will give the regime victory?
It might give victory in some areas, but it will bring shame to it and to the international community that is doing nothing. These are civilians and they are under the international legal protection.
Q: More than 10,000 people were killed in the past year in Outer Damascus. Why so many there? One in four Syrians killed over the past year was in that area.
Because Eastern Ghouta exists there. It faces daily bombardment and no single day passes without people getting killed in Outer Damascus.
It is very important militarily and it is blockaded. [Ed.: Here, al-Ahmed says the area is close to a highly sensitive site that he asks not be disclosed.]
I don’t think it will fall easily, it holds thousands of fighters and thousands of weapons.
Q: Is it a total blockade like Homs? Or can food enter?
In the beginning of 2014, it was totally blockaded. Now, sometimes aid can enter.
Q: Any personal observations after three years of war?
Unfortunately, the circumstances are getting worse. It is a humanitarian disaster; the international community does not interfere and Syria is being filled up with foreign fighters. Especially Hezbollah, Iranian and Iraqi militias.
The world must know that Bashar Assad is the one that who has led Syria to this point. The regime had many options, but it chose the military option. This regime is a shame on Syria and the whole world.
Q: Will Bashar al-Assad win this war?
Of course he will fall. The regime will fall and Syria will live.
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