Photo Source: © Rami Alsayed/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Photo Source: © Rami Alsayed/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Atrocity Alert No. 335: Syria, Haiti and Eritrea

15 February 2023

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.


A 7.8 magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks struck southeastern Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February, causing massive devastation to a region already desolated by nearly twelve years of conflict and atrocities. The death toll has surpassed 35,000 while the search for survivors continues. On 14 February the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 8.8 million people in Syria have been affected by the earthquake.

On 13 February Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced the decision to open two additional crossing points into northwest Syria from Türkiye at Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee for an initial period of three months to allow for aid delivery to the millions affected by the earthquake. Before this announcement, humanitarian aid was being funneled through a sole international crossing from Türkiye at Bab al-Hawa into northwest Syria. The crossing at Bab al-Hawa is authorized through a mandate of the UN Security Council (UNSC), most recently renewed in early January. The UNSC first authorized cross-border deliveries in 2014, creating four points through which humanitarian aid could be delivered by road from Türkiye, Iraq and Jordan. These operations are critical for addressing the scope of humanitarian needs in Syria, including the millions of people living in areas outside government control. However, Russia – a close ally of the Syrian government – and China have routinely insisted that aid should instead be delivered across domestic frontlines from government-held areas to areas outside government control. In 2020 the UNSC reduced the number of border crossings from four to one due to pressure from Russia and several joint vetoes with China.

Aid delivered across Syrian domestic lines has proved challenging amidst ongoing insecurity. UN convoys have reportedly been blocked by the nonstate armed group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham that controls part of Syria’s northwest. Christian Lindmeier, Spokesperson for the World Health Organization, said, “Every party has to agree to receive convoys to let them go unhindered and that is the biggest challenge.”

The challenges in responding to extensive damage from the earthquake, as well as the pre-existing humanitarian needs in Syria, are inextricably linked to the ongoing conflict. One day prior to the earthquake OCHA reported that humanitarian needs in Syria have reached their highest levels, with over 15 million people requiring immediate assistance in 2023. Years of airstrikes and other unlawful attacks targeting hospitals and clinics have crippled what remains of Syria’s healthcare infrastructure, causing humanitarians working on the aftermath of the earthquake to issue an urgent appeal for supplies.

The UNSC must reach a sustainable solution to the cross-border aid delivery mandate that places the needs of vulnerable populations first. Only a political and peaceful settlement to the crisis will help to permanently alleviate humanitarian suffering in Syria.


Populations in Cité Soleil – a commune on the outskirts of the Haitian capital, Port-Au-Prince – have been the victims of gang violence and gross human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, gang rape, indiscriminate sniper attacks and destruction of property, according to a new report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. From July to December 2022 gang violence resulted in 263 murders and 57 gang rapes of women and girls, as well as kidnappings and sexual exploitation in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Cité Soleil. Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “The findings of this report are horrifying: it paints a picture of how people are being harassed and terrorized by criminal gangs for months without the State being able to stop it. It can only be described as a living nightmare.”

The escalating violence in several neighborhoods across Cité Soleil is caused by ongoing turf wars involving two gang coalitions – the G9 in Family and Allies and G-Pep – and is part of well-defined strategies to subjugate populations and expand territorial control. The situation in Brooklyn is not an isolated one, but rather mirrors the risks facing others living in fear in areas under the control of heavily armed gangs. Gangs have proliferated since the assassination of then-President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, with some 95 gangs fighting over territory in Port-Au-Prince. Amidst growing insecurity, the Haitian National Police (HNP) has lacked the capacity to combat their territorial expansion and protect residents. The UN has estimated that armed groups control 60 percent of the capital.

Haitians have little or no access to basic necessities, as gangs have blocked essential transport routes and looted humanitarian supplies. Ongoing clashes have left much of the country inaccessible to the government and resulted in routine gun violence with the HNP. In late January the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti reported that gang violence had reached levels not seen in decades, with more than 2,100 murders and 1,300 kidnappings documented in 2022 alone.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes, warned that schools have become “targets for violence,” as groups in certain areas “consider looting schools as a lucrative alternative to other forms of extortion and crime.” Between October and February at least 72 schools were targeted compared to eight the same period last year. UNICEF reported that in the first six days of February escalating violence resulted in the closure of 30 schools.

The prevalence of gang violence and increasing human rights violations in Haiti puts populations at risk of mass atrocities. All perpetrators, as well as those providing support and finance to gangs, must be held accountable. The international community must strengthen its support to Haitian authorities, including by bolstering the capacity of the HNP. The government must ensure that schools are safe.


For more than 25 years the government of Eritrea has maintained a policy of indefinite military service, including compulsory military conscription. According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, in recent months Eritrean authorities have increasingly cracked down on and collectively punished the relatives of thousands of people alleged to be evading forced conscription. Since mid-2022 security forces have set up checkpoints and gone door-to-door to identify draft evaders or deserters. At times, family members of suspected draft evaders, including elderly parents and women with young children, have been arbitrarily detained and evicted to pressure their participation in the mobilization drive. A witness quoted in the report said, “This is happening in literally every neighborhood in [the capital of] Asmara… Every household that has a member who could be conscripted has been visited.” Government forces in rural communities have also reportedly confiscated livestock, prevented people from harvesting crops, forcibly closed shops and withheld ration cards in an attempt to force families to turn evaders in.

While an 18-month-long military training and national service are legally mandated for all Eritreans, it routinely lasts much longer, and in some cases years or decades. In 2016 the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Eritrea found that likely crimes against humanity have been committed in detention facilities, military training camps and other locations across the country, including enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, persecution and murder. The CoI also reported that high-level officials authorized sexual violence as a method of punishment at compulsory military service camps, concluding that these crimes amount to sexual slavery and torture.

One reason Eritrean authorities are engaging in a mobilization drive and strictly enforcing the compulsory conscription program is Eritrea’s role in the conflict in neighboring Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Since the conflict started in November 2020 the Eritrean government has carried out a series of roundups for more troops, which have intensified as the conflict in Tigray escalated, according to Human Rights Watch. Once deployed to Ethiopia, Eritrean forces have consistently been accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a rare public statement on the conflict, on 9 February Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki refuted the claims of abuses in Tigray as “misinformation” and “fantasy” and asserted his country has “no intention of interfering” in the peace process in Ethiopia.

Sarah Hunter, Horn of Africa expert at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “The Eritrean government has not only committed atrocities against its own people but also committed some of the worst crimes in Tigray. The international community, particularly the UN Human Rights Council, should maintain its scrutiny of Eritrea’s human rights situation and push the government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea.”

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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