Aleppo is falling. After years of fighting and a siege, it appears that rebel forces are about to lose control of their last stronghold. This will have profound consequences for the entire trajectory of the Syrian civil war. (For more on that, tune into the Global Dispatches podcast episode)
But more immediately, it is leading to a massive human rights and humanitarian catastrophe. If you thought the situation in Aleppo could not get worse, you were wrong.
According to the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights some 100,000 civilians are still in areas under the control of armed opposition groups. They are “being squeezed into ever-shrinking areas ” while some 30,000 have recently fled to areas under government control.
And among those who have fled, it appears that hundreds of men have gone missing.
As pro-Government forces have advanced from the north into eastern Aleppo, there have been allegations of reprisals against civilians who are perceived to have supported armed opposition groups, as well as reports that men were being separated from women and children. While it is difficult to establish the facts in such a fluid and dangerous situation, we have received very worrying allegations that hundreds of men have gone missing after crossing into Government-controlled areas. Family members say they lost contact with the men, between the ages of 30 and 50, after they fled opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo around a week or ten days ago. There are also approximately 150 activists inside opposition-controlled Aleppo who fear being detained by Government forces if they attempt to leave. Given the terrible record of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances by the Syrian Government, we are of course deeply concerned about the fate of these individuals.
What is happening right now in Aleppo bears shocking similarity to what happened in Srebrenica in 1995.
Then, as now, a population sought safety from military siege. Then, as now, a city was overrun. Then, as now, men were separated from women and girls.
In Srebrenica, 8,000 men and boys were rounded up into warehouses and shot to death. The difference is that in Aleppo, we just don’t know the fate of the missing. We do know, however, that as the city falls there is bound to be more and more stories like this to emerge.