Syria Human Rights Abuses: Worse Than You Think

By: Mark Leon Goldberg

A long awaited UN report on the human rights situation was just released.

The report paints the grim picture of a regime unperturbed by international law and willing to use excessive force against civilian populations to suppress dissent. But we already knew that. What we did not know were some of the awful details uncovered by the report.

Here are some low-lights from the report. Be warned: really nightmarish descriptions of human rights abuses are described.

- Defectors from military and security forces told the commission that they had received orders to shoot at unarmed protesters without warning.

- From a defector describing an incident in May: “Our commanding officer told us that there were armed conspirators and terrorists attacking civilians and burning Government buildings. We went into Telbisa on that day. We did not see any armed group. The protestors called for freedom.

They carried olive branches and marched with their children. We were ordered to either disperse the crowd or eliminate everybody, including children. The orders were to fire in the air and immediately after to shoot at people. No time was allowed between one action and the other. We opened fire; I was there. We used machine guns and other weapons. There were many people on the ground, injured or killed.”

- on 29 April, thousands of people walked from nearby villages to the town of Dar’a to bring food, water and medicine to the local population. When they reached the Sayda residence complex, they were ambushed by security forces. More than 40 people were reportedly killed, including women and children.

- Several defectors witnessed the killing of their comrades who refused to execute orders to fire at civilians. A number of conscripts were allegedly killed by security forces on 25 April in Dar’a during a large-scale military operation. The soldiers in the first row were given orders to aim directly at residential areas, but chose to fire in the air to avoid civilian casualties. Security forces posted behind shot them for refusing orders, thus killing dozens of conscripts.

- A number of cases was documented of injured people who were taken to military hospitals, where they were beaten and tortured during interrogation. Torture and killings reportedly took place in the Homs Military Hospital by security forces dressed as doctors and allegedly acting with the complicity of medical personnel.

- Children were also tortured, some to death. Two well-known cases are those of Thamir Al Sharee, aged 14, and Hamza Al Katheeb, aged 13, from the town of Sayda in the Dar’a governorate. They were seized and allegedly taken to an Air Force Intelligence facility in Damascus in April. They did not return home alive. The injuries described in the post-mortem report of Thamir Al Sharee are consistent with torture. A witness, himself a victim of torture, claimed to have seen Thamir Al Sharee on 3 May. The witness stated that “the boy was lying on the floor and was completely blue. He was bleeding profusely from his ear, eyes and nose. He was shouting and calling for his mother and father for help. He fainted after being hit with a rifle butt on the head.”

- Testimonies were received from several men who stated they had been anally raped with batons and that they had witnessed the rape of boys. One man stated that he witnessed a 15-year-old boy being raped in front of his father. A 40-year-old man saw the rape of an 11-year-old boy by three security services officers. He stated: “I have never been so afraid in my whole life. And then they turned to me and said; you are next.” The interviewee was unable to continue his testimony. One 20-year-old university student told the commission that he was subjected to sexual violence in detention, adding that “if my father had been present and seen me, I would have had to commit suicide”. Another man confided while crying, “I don’t feel like a man any more”.

- One military defector stated that he decided to defect after witnessing the shooting of a 2-year-old girl in Al Ladhiqiyah on 13 August by an officer who affirmed that he did not want her to grow into a demonstrator.

So what is next? This report will surely send shock-waves through the UN system. It also needs to be viewed in context of the Arab League’s decision yesterday to slap some broad and hard hitting sanctions on Syria. The Arab League sanctions plus this report may provide the final impetus for Russia to abstain from a punitive Security Council resolution on Syria. Given the claims made by this report, I would imagine that it is all but assured that a future Security Council resolution would also include a referral by Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The clock is definitely ticking on the regime of Bashar al Assad.

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