Syria: Fresh evidence of armed forces’ ongoing crimes against humanity
The shocking escalation in unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention and the wanton destruction of homes in Syria demonstrates just how urgent the need for decisive international action to stem the tide of increasingly widespread attacks on civilians by government forces and militias which act with utter impunity, Amnesty International said in a new report today.
The 70-page report Deadly Reprisals, provides fresh evidence of widespread as well as systematic violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, being perpetrated as part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting the opposition and to intimidate people into submission.
“This disturbing new evidence of an organized pattern of grave abuses highlights the pressing need for decisive international action to stem the tide of increasingly widespread attacks against the civilian population, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed by government forces and militias with utter impunity,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser, who recently spent several weeks investigating human rights violations in northern Syria.
“For more than a year the UN Security Council has dithered, while a human rights crisis unfolded in Syria. It must now break the impasse and take concrete action to end to these violations and to hold to account those responsible.”
Although not granted official permission by the Syrian authorities to enter the country, Amnesty International was able to investigate the situation on the ground in northern Syria, and has concluded that Syrian government forces and militias are responsible for grave human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Amnesty International visited 23 towns and villages in the Aleppo and Idlib governorates, including areas where Syrian government forces launched large scale attacks including during negotiations over the implementation of the UN-Arab League-sponsored six-point ceasefire agreement in March/April.
In every town and village visited grieving families described to Amnesty International how their relatives – young and old and including children – were dragged away and shot dead by soldiers – who in some cases then set the victims’ bodies on fire.
Soldiers and shabiha militias burned down homes and properties and fired indiscriminately into residential areas, killing and injuring civilian bystanders. Those who were arrested, including the sick and elderly, were routinely tortured, sometimes to death. Many have been subjected to enforced disappearance; their fate remains unknown.
“Everywhere I went, I met distraught residents who asked why the world is standing by and doing nothing,” said Donatella Rovera.
“Such inaction by the international community ultimately encourages further abuses. As the situation continues to deteriorate and the civilian death toll rises daily, the international community must act to stop the spiraling violence”.
The government crackdown has been targeting towns and villages seen as opposition strongholds, whether the site of clashes with Free Syria Army (FSA) forces or where the opposition remains peaceful.
In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, on several occasions in the last week of May, Amnesty International watched uniformed security forces and plain clothesshabiha militia members firing live rounds against peaceful demonstrators, killing and injuring protesters and passers-by, including children.
The patterns of abuses committed in these areas are not isolated, and have been widely reported elsewhere in the country, including in the attack by Syrian forces on Houla on 25 May. According to the United Nations, 108 individuals, including 49 children and 34 women, were killed there.
Since the outbreak of pro-reform protests in February 2011, Amnesty International has received the names of more than 10,000 people who have been killed during the unrest, although the actual figure may be considerably higher.
The report underpins findings from other investigations into the situation in Syria including the UN Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict, which highlighted that, over the last year, government forces were responsible for “killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment” of children as young as nine years old.
In the report, Amnesty International again calls on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to impose an arms embargo on Syria with the aim of stopping the flow of weapons to the Syrian government.
It urges the governments of the Russian Federation and China in particular to halt immediately transfers to the Syrian government of all weapons, munitions, military, security, and policing equipment, training and personnel.
It also calls on the Security Council to implement an asset freeze against President Bashar al-Assad and others who may be involved in ordering or perpetrating crimes under international law.
Amnesty International has made numerous recommendations to the Syrian authorities, which, if implemented, would help to curtail the widespread violations – amounting to crimes against humanity or war crimes – currently taking place.
But it appears the Syrian government has no intention of ending, let alone investigating, these crimes.
“The Syrian government’s attempts to block access to Amnesty International, other human rights monitors and the international media, have failed to shield it from scrutiny. This report provides further detailed evidence that the Syrian authorities are engaged in a sustained, widespread and brutal attack against the civilian population,” said Donatella Rovera.
Note to editors:
Between mid-April and the end of May 2012 Amnesty International conducted on-site investigations in the north-western Aleppo and Idlib governorates, including the Jabal al-Zawya and Jabal Wastani areas, north-west of Hama.
These investigations included more than 200 interviews with relatives of those killed and arrested, people whose homes and properties had been burned down, damaged or looted, survivors of attacks, eyewitnesses and released detainees.
This report focuses on patterns of systematic violations perpetrated by government forces, including shabiha militias working alongside the military and security forces, including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings; direct and indiscriminate attacks using tanks, mortars and helicopters and resulting in the unlawful killing and injuring of civilians; the systematic burning and looting of people’s homes and properties; and arbitrary detention and torture.
The findings of this report substantiate those of other bodies, such as the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the UN Committee against Torture, as well as the evidence collected by Amnesty International during research missions to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to interview Syrians who have fled their country since the violent repression of the unrest began.
For a copy of the embargoed report, or to request an interview with Amnesty International spokespersons, please contact Shukri Shewayish in the Amnesty International Press Office on +44 (0) 20 7413 5511 or email email@example.com
13About this report ?
152. DELIBERATE KILLINGS ?
15Idlib city ?
24Jebel al-Zawiyah area ?
30Jebel al-Wastani area ?
31Aleppo area ?
353. INDISCRIMINATE ATTACKS CAUSING CIVILIAN CASUALTIES ?
424. WANTON DESTRUCTION OF HOMES AND PROPERTY ?
505. TORTURE AND ARBITRARY DETENTION ?
556. APPLICABLE INTERNATIONAL LAW ?
55International humanitarian law ?
57International human rights law ?
60International criminal law ?
617. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ?
7. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
“Is the world just going to keep watching and do nothing until we’ve all been killed?”
Resident of Jebel al-Zawiyah area, north-west of Hama, speaking to Amnesty International in mid-May 2012
This report contributes to the mounting evidence that Syria is responsible for gross violations of human rights on a massive scale, amounting to crimes under international law. The numbers of people killed and injured alone cannot adequately convey the suffering and despair of the victims and survivors. The men, women and children who have watched helplessly as their loved ones were killed in cold blood or taken away to a fate unknown are asking why the international community has abandoned them.
The Syrian government’s efforts to shield itself from scrutiny by blocking access to international media and human rights organizations have failed to obscure the human rights catastrophe that is unfolding. Local human rights defenders and citizen journalists have taken great risks – and in many cases paid a very high price – to report the violations.
Despite the obstacles imposed by the Syrian authorities, Amnesty International, the UN independent international Commission of Inquiry and others have been able to independently investigate allegations of violations and to conclude that the Syrian government is responsible for mass violations amounting to crimes against humanity. Amnesty International has made numerous recommendations to the Syrian authorities – both since the start of the unrest in 2011 and before – which, if implemented, would do much to curtail the practices the organization has documented in such detail in this report. However, it is manifestly evident that the Syrian government has no intention of ending, let alone investigating, these crimes. Victims and their relatives are left without justice or reparation.
The international community has before it ample, credible documentation of the scale and gravity of violations committed. The UN Security Council squandered over a year in political wrangling, during which the government responded to mass protests that were largely peaceful with unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention. As the Security Council dithered the situation deteriorated – in at least some regions – to the brink of civil war. The Security Council has belatedly taken action. But it urgently must strengthen this initiative with effective measures to stop violations and crimes and ensure justice and accountability.
To this end, Amnesty International makes the following recommendations:
To the government of Syria
End extrajudicial executions; the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force – including indiscriminate fire in densely populated civilian areas; arbitrary arrests; enforced disappearances; and torture and other ill-treatment, and make clear to all government forces and militias that such violations will not be tolerated.
Release all those arbitrarily arrested and those detained for taking part in peaceful demonstrations or expressing dissent, and register those being released and the circumstances of release. Pending release, ensure that detainees are allowed regular visits from their families and lawyers and are given adequate medical care.
End attacks on medical facilities and personnel and ensure that those requiring it can promptly and safely access necessary medical attention and health care.
Co-operate fully with the UN observer mission and grant monitors access to all places of detention.
Provide full co-operation and unimpeded access to the independent international Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged crimes under international law and violations and abuses of international human rights law.
Invite and facilitate prompt access to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, as well as other relevant UN Special Procedure mandate holders, in order for them to carry out independent investigations into alleged crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations and abuses.
Allow international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies prompt and unfettered access to Syria.
To the UN Security Council
Ensure that the UN observer mission has an adequately resourced and strong human rights component with the mandate and capacity to monitor, investigate and publicly report on all human rights abuses.
Ensure that human rights monitors have the capacity to protect victims and witnesses. Monitors must be provided with necessary logistical and other support, including protection, so that they can travel to all areas of Syria and visit all places of detention.
Refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity.
Immediately impose an arms embargo on Syria with the aim of stopping the flow of weapons to the Syrian government, and establish an effective mechanism to monitor compliance.
Request that any country considering supplying arms to the armed opposition should have in place the necessary mechanisms to ensure the material supplied is not used to commit human rights abuses and/or war crimes.
Implement an asset freeze against President Bashar al-Assad and others who may be involved in ordering or perpetrating crimes under international law.
Demand that Syria grant prompt and unfettered access to the independent international Commission of Inquiry, humanitarian and human rights organizations, and to international media.
To all governments
Accept a shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law committed in Syria or anywhere in the world. In particular, seek to exercise universal jurisdiction over these crimes before national courts in fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty.
As part of this shared responsibility, establish joint international investigation and prosecution teams to investigate crimes under international law committed in Syria to improve the effectiveness of investigation, improve the chances of arrest and co-ordinate prosecutions.
To the governments of China and the Russian Federation
In the absence of an international arms embargo, to halt immediately transfers to the Syrian government of all weapons, munitions, military, security, and policing equipment, training and personnel.
East Mediterranean Team
Amnesty International, International Secretariat
Peter Benenson House, 1 Easton Street
London WC1X 0DW
Tel: +44 (0)20 7413 5500
Fax: +44 (0)20 7413 5719
14 June 2012