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2017 | The Evacuation of Eastern Aleppo Humanitarian Obligation or War Crime, by Elvina Pothelet

The evacuation of the rebel-held parts of the eastern districts of Aleppo was agreed between the warring parties as part of a ceasefire deal brokered by Russia and turkey on 15 December 2016. By 22 december 2016, more than 35,00 people had been evacuated from the besieged areas of Aleppo to Idlib provice (for the most part) or to western Aleppo.

The evacuation was portrayed as a humanitarian undertaking. However, if the siege had the effect of starving the civilian population, the government forces were under a legal duty to access access to humanitarian relief.

It took place in the framework of a non-international armed conflict. In NIAC, ordering the displacement of civilians is prohibited under Article 17(1) APII and a corresponding customary rule. However, since Syria is not party to APII, only the latter is applicable.

‘’Parties to a non-international armed conflict may not order the displacement of the civilian population, in whole or in part, for reasons related to the conflict, unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand’’.

The article further examines this ICRC provision and concludes that in order to prove that the evacuation in eastern Aleppo constituted a war crime, it would be required for the prosecutor to prove the existence of an order to displace. Most importantly, whether they were lawfully displaced or not, civilians have a right to return as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease. It will be important to monitor whether the parties comply with the clear terms of this legal obligation – especially because it may be an indicator of the criminal nature of the displacement itself.