For Immediate Release


March 24, 2015


Washington, DC – Today, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) launches a new report entitled Slow Death: Life and Death in Syrian Communities under Siege. The report presents new estimates that suggest that the scale of the crisis of civilians under siege in Syria is more than three times higher than the current UN OCHA estimates, with over 640,200 Syrians currently living in at least 49 besieged communities across the country.


Findings from the report were previewed for UN Member States last week during a closed-door briefing at the UN, evoking strong reactions from the attendees. The event was co-sponsored by the U.S., UK, France, Italy, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.


Long-term sieges of populated areas – some of which have been ongoing since 2012 – have had a devastating impact on the people trapped inside. Syrian civilians are being intentionally denied food, clean water, electricity, and sufficient medical care as part of a cruel tactic of war. Dr. Zaher Sahloul, President of SAMS, said, “Hundreds of Syrians have died in besieged areas from preventable causes such as starvation, dehydration, and a lack of basic medical care. A disproportionate amount of them are children.”


In Slow Death, SAMS estimates that there are more than 640,200 people living under long-term siege in Syria, more than three times the current UN OCHA estimate of 212,000. Most besieged areas are experiencing severe health crises due to the malnourished populations, unsanitary conditions, and occurrence of mass-casualty events, and at the same time lack basic medical supplies and have lost the majority of their medical professionals. Communicable diseases, chronic conditions, and traumatic injuries that can be successfully treated elsewhere in Syria often lead to death under siege.


The report uses a new dataset with information on 560 civilians who have died prematurely in besieged areas, with pictures of 346 of the victims. The full dataset and accompanying photos can be found at Analysis of this data confirms that the physical impacts of siege disproportionately impact children and the elderly. One hundred percent of the recorded deaths under siege were in areas besieged by the Syrian government.


SAMS urges stronger and urgent action from the international community to protect and allow humanitarian access to reach those under siege. SAMS calls on UN agencies to immediately revisit their “Besieged” designations to consider inclusion of the additional 38 besieged areas designated by SAMS and to verify their population estimates. The UN Security Council should continue to push for accountability for international humanitarian law violations, including referral of besieging parties to the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Further, SAMS calls for the UN General Assembly to hold an Emergency Special Session under the “Uniting for Peace” procedures, to make recommendations for collective measures to address the ongoing crimes against innocent civilians. The long-term sieges of Syrian civilians – largely perpetrated by the government of Syria against its own citizens – have been allowed to metastasize for far too long. It is both legally and morally incumbent upon the international community to take immediate action to end the sieges of populated areas in Syria.


For media inquiries, please contact SAMS’s Advocacy & Communications Manager, Kat Fallon, at or (202) 503-1215.