Due to the dire nature of the situation in Syria, Impunity Watch has elected to dedicate an entire page to following the story as it develops. The information below is culled from a variety of sources and will be updated periodically. Any commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of Impunity Watch.
*WARNING SOME VIDEOS MAY CONTAIN GRAPHIC IMAGES*
Two pickups belonging to the regime’s forces are captured here full of detainees after an arbitrary and warrantless arrest campaign in the town.
Homs | Joret Ash-Shayah
This unidentified man is stuck under the rubble after the regime’s forces completely destroyed the hospital.
Dar’aa | Al-Mahata
All that is left of this school is the frame, after the regime’s forces arbitrarily destroyed it.
Hama | Masha’ At-Tayar
(WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)
A girl no older than three years is pulled from under the rubble after the regime’s forces levelled more than 25 homes during a shelling campaign which killed at least 70 residents, most of them women and children.
By Adom M. Cooper Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
Location: Hamaa | Halfaya
This hospital’s freezer is filled with bodies after the regime’s forces shelled the town. The young man seen here is one of the victims of the assault.
Location: Hama | Masha’ Al-Arba’een
This woman is begging a monitor to help save the embattled citizens of Syria, telling him, “We are slaughtered, we are slaughtered.”
Location: Damascus Suburbs | Douma
(WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC CONTENT)
Several residents were killed and dozens were injured when the regime’s forces violently shelled the town on Tuesday. This footage was taken inside a makeshift hospital, and pictures the bodies of the dead. Extremely graphic footage of one of the victims, whose brain was blown out.
Location: Aleppo | A’zaz
To keep up the appearance of committing to the Annan plan and fool the UN monitors before their arrival, the regime’s forces are seen here hiding tanks in trenches in the town.
The family of this young man bids farewell to him after was killed by the relentless gunfire at the hands of the regime’s forces during a demonstration.
Hama, Hama Province
The killing and destruction by the regime’s forces in Hama continues after the United Nations monitors left the town. This video captures the regime’s forces on a high building gesturing and threatening residents that a violent onslaught is about to begin again.
This is leaked video footage of the regime’s forces bragging about the pictured items (the chairs, fan, etc.) which they stole from residents after killing them.
This footage shows the pain of a mother crying to the United Nations monitors that she hasn’t heard from her son in months after he was arrested by the regime’s security forces, and that they refuse to give her any information.
These residents, at great risk, were able to capture footage of the regime’s checkpoint at the entrance of the town, where every vehicle entering and leaving is stopped and residents are berated by the regime’s forces, who often steal what is in the vehicles.
Even water is being prohibited from the residents, after the regime’s forces targeted the water tanks of the town in order to force the residents to flee as one basic necessity after another is taken away by the regime from residents.
By Tyler Yates Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria — In a twisted development to an already aberrant conflict, there is news that Syrian authorities have been detaining and torturing children. This is coupled with previous reports that the Syrian military has routinely raped women, tortured detainees, shot unarmed civilians, and encouraged looting of houses they storm. There have been (unconfirmed, as of yet) stories of the Syrian opposition army employing child soldiers.
The individual stories of child torture are shocking.
Hossam, a 13 year-old boy, talks of the “ultimate pain” of his torture when a “terrifying person” with a “huge body” drove a screwdriver up into his big toe nail before ripping it out with pliers. The man screamed, “’You want freedom? You want to topple the regime?’” as he beat the boy.
Mohammed, a 16-year old from Duma, was tortured with electricity after being arrested, and telling his captors that he supported a Syria that benefits all Syrians. He was beaten with a cable two or three times a day, and electrocuted on his chest, hands, legs, neck, and on his stomach, close to his genitals.
Pure physical torture of children does not cover the extent of the stories coming out of Syria.
Ayman Karnebo, a dissident who was arrested last May when the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began, witnessed the Syrian security forces torturing a pregnant mother, her husband, and her husband’s mother in front of the couple’s infant sons. Karnebo was sharing a cell with them at the time.
He recalls that the family was of Somali origin; having been rounded up after the revolt took hold. All foreigners were viewed with suspicion by the Assad government, leading many, like this family, to be detained and questioned.
Karnebo describes all three adults as being tortured with electric shocks to the elbows, hands and toes in front of their terrified children. After this round of torture the family was moved to another jail. Their fate remains unknown.
The Assad regime has long been known for its systematic and widespread use of torture, but these new revelations have still come as a surprise.
Amnesty International recently identified 31 methods of torture being employed by Syrian authorities. Some methods have been in use for decades, include the “tire,” where the victim is forced into a large tire and beaten on the feet. There is also the “flying carpet,” where the prisoner is strapped face-up on a wooden board that is bent to stretch the spine.
There are relatively unknown apparently new and even more disturbing techniques, including using pincers to rip out flesh, anal rape with sharp objects and a form of crucifixion where the prisoner is hung from a wall by their wrists.
“The biggest lie of the regime is that there are no orders to torture,” a defected former member of Syrian Air force Intelligence told GlobalPost. “It’s a program, a routine. I saw an old man with a 6-year-old girl brought to the interrogation department. Just five minutes of what she saw there, the screams she heard will surely traumatize her for the rest of her life.”
Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ human rights chief believes that the UN Security Council has enough reliable information to refer Syria’s actions to the International Criminal Court (“ICC”).
“They’ve gone for the children — for whatever purposes — in large numbers,”the BBC quoted her as saying. “Hundreds detained and tortured… it’s just horrendous…Children shot in the knees, held together with adults in really inhumane conditions, denied medical treatment for their injuries, either held as hostages or as sources of information…I feel that investigation and prosecution is a crucial element to deter and call a stop to these violations.”
Syria is not a party to the ICC, so unless Damascus refers itself to the court’s jurisdiction, the only other way for ICC jurisdiction to be created is by a UN Security Council vote. Given the previous vetoes by Russia and China on resolutions concerning Assad’s violent crackdown such actions are unlikely.
The United States, for its part, is urging the Syrian opposition to unite and pledge to respect minority rights should they eventually push Assad out of power.
“They must be able to clearly demonstrate a commitment to including all Syrians and protecting the rights of all Syrians,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
More than 9,000 people have been killed in the yearlong Syrian uprising. Both the opposition and the Syrian government have been accused of human rights abuses during the conflict, drawing international flack from NGOs and other countries alike.
A supposed cease-fire between the opposition and the Syrian government, brokered by the United Nations, is scheduled to start on April 14, but its already shaky future is now further in doubt as the Syrian government is now claiming its conditions were misunderstood.
By Adom M. Cooper Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria–According the spokesman for UN delegate Kofi Annan, The Syrian government has agreed in principle to accept the joint UN-Arab League envoy’s six-point plan on ending the violence in Syria. This is tremendous news for the civilians of Syrian who are desperate to see the violence end and receive proper humanitarian attention.
“The Syrian government has written to the joint special envoy Kofi Annan, accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. Mr. Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”
The six points of the peace plan are listed below:
1)Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people
2)UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians
3)All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause
4)Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons
5)Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists
6)Authorities to respect freedom of association and right to demonstrate peacefully
Mr. Annan is currently in Beijing on a mission to remove any skepticism about his six-point plan so that it can be approved and implemented. Annan met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who pledged his support for the tireless efforts to bring peace to the people of Syria, and Annan has also met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. It seems that support from both China and Russia should see the plan through and have the needed assistance reach the citizens of Syria immediately.
China and Russia are both close allies of Syria and already blocked two United Nations Security Council resolutions that condemned al-Assad’s regime. Their previous blocking of resolutions has drawn harsh criticism from Western nations. China continues to oppose foreign military intervention or any type of regime change after witnessing Western forces helping in the successful removal of Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi.
Russia President Medvedev stated on Tuesday 27 March 2012 that it was “short-sighted” to believe that the solution to the crisis is Assad agreeing to Western demands to step down.
As the news of al-Assad’s willingness to agree to the plan broke, opposition forces in Syria known as the Syrian National Council (SNC) met for a second day in Istanbul, Turkey to have a meeting of the minds on common objectives for their nation’s future as the weekend’s “Friends of Syria” conference looms. The opposition in Syria is fragmented and has struggled to remain united in the face of the regime’s deadly crackdown. The talks in Istanbul are aimed at bringing the members to a general consensus and securing international recognition.
Basma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the SNC, shared these words with Reuters.
“A peaceful transition means that the regime needed to be changed. And that starts with the removal of the head of the state. Mr. Annan’s initiative for us should lead to development of clear terms of reference for negotiation on the modalities of change. Not on whether the change should happen or not.”
While al-Assad and the opposition leaders continue to talk amongst themselves, the situation on the ground has not changed at all. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syria forced continued their assault across the nation with at least eight people, including three women, killed overnight in battle with rebel troops. Video posted on the Internet by activists showed thick black smoke and blazing buildings in a district of Homs. There were wounded and bleeding men and women lying in a street.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 9,000 people have lost their lives in Syria’s upheaval over the past year, according to the UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry. The Syrian government has continually blamed foreign-backed terrorists for the violence and reported that 3,000 soldiers and police have been killed.
Activists in Syria have shared their skepticism for Kofi Annan’s plan, noting that the Syrian government had only partially implemented a previous Arab League-led plan to halt the violence. A rebel spokesman, identifying himself as Abu Rami, shared with Reuters from Homs, the main arena for fierce fighting between Syrian forces and protesters, that he expected the violence to continue.
“It’s like other initiatives that have been before. They did not stop the shelling.”
There is a widespread consensus among Syrians that al-Assad is simply attempting to bog down Annan and his team of mediators in a frivolous diplomatic process that will give him political cover to continue his military campaign against the opposition. One can hope that Annan’s plan and method of implementation will not allow this to happen or hope for change will dissipate. And the life of every Syrian civilian and protester will remain in imminent danger.
By Carolyn Abdenour Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
AL QAA, Lebanon – On Tuesday, 27 March, Lebanese residents and local security forces reported fighting between Syrian rebels and security forces spilled into Lebanon. The witnesses saw Syrian troops destroy Lebanese farm buildings and fight with Syrian rebels who sought refuge in their neighboring country when the troops entered Lebanon.
Over the past year, thousands of Syrians have escaped to Lebanon. Since the Baba Amr district of Homs sustained four weeks of bombardment in early March by Syrian forces, over 1,500 Syrians fled to Lebanon. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), who wants to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and smugglers also utilized this border. Residents stated the Syrian troops followed the FSA over the border to enter Lebanon.
Abu Ahmed, a 63 year old resident of al-Qaa (a Sunni Muslim rural mountain region) said, “More than 35 Syrian soldiers came across the border and started to destroy houses.” Another resident added troops in armored vehicles demolished one home with a bulldozer, lunched rocket-propelled grenades, and fired machineguns in a clash with rebels. A witness also stated the forces also burned several houses.
A Lebanese security source stated the clashes occurred near a poorly marked border where people easily and frequently cross. A Lebanese security official stated, “There is no Syrian military presence on the Lebanese side of the border.” Two Lebanese officials asserted bullets just passed through the rural village near the border. However, residents reported dozens of Syrian forces are presently located 200 to 500 meters inside Lebanese territory.
Residents also stated Syrian forces momentarily entered Lebanon to shadow fleeing rebels throughout the recent months. Al-Jazeera documented cases where Lebanese residents believed Syrian troops planted landmines near populous areas. In October, the regional English-language news organization added a Syrian army tank launched shells at military targets inside Lebanon’s territory. Last week, Syrian shells landed in northern Lebanon.
On Monday, 26 March, Syria accused Lebanon of supporting armed “terrorist groups” with weapons. In his letter to the United Nations (UN) Security Council and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week, Syrian UN Ambassador Basah Ja’afari wrote, “Experts, officials and observers are unanimous that weapons are being smuggled into Syrian territory from bordering States, including Lebanon.”
These clashes occur on the same day of Syria’s acceptance of a cease fire and peace plan composed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
By Adom M. Cooper Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria–As the never-ending turmoil continues in Syria, heavy fighting has erupted between opposition fighters and security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in a main district of Damascus. Witnesses report that this particular area is home to several key security installations. The intense fighting is taking place as al-Assad’s regime retains the contention that it has complete control of Damascus.
Syrian state television stated three “terrorists” and a member of Syria’s security forces were killed in the fighting. Since the beginning of the uprising, the Syrian state television has continually held that these “terrorists” are to blame for the violence around the country and has not repeatedly acknowledged the many deaths endured by innocent civilians.
Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, stated that at least 18 security troops were wounded in the fighting that broke out before dawn in the upscale and heavily guarded Mazzah neighborhood of Damascus. According to the Observatory, more than 9,100 people have lost their lives since the uprising began against the regime last March. Abdel-Rahman shared these words with the AFP.
“The clashes were the strongest and closes to security installations in the capital since the outbreak of the revolt a year ago.”
A member of the Revolutionary Leadership council in Damascus, referring to herself as Lena and not wishing to be identified further, shared these words with Al-Jazeera about the fighting in Damascus.
“Some people came to al-Mezzah and they are trying to attack residents. They are calling them names and taking them out of their houses, people have left their homes. They are in the streets. The security forces are all around the place. Security police have blocked several side streets and the street lighting has been cut off.”
Mourtadad Rasheed, an activist living in Damascus, shared these words with Ahram about his encounter of the violence, detailing that heavy shooting could be heard in Mazzaeh as well as two other districts, Qaboon and Arbeen.
“We woke up at 3AM to the sound of heavy machinegun fire and rocket propelled grenades (RPG). The fighting last about 10 minute, then eased before starting again.”
Al-Jazeera’s own Rula Amin reported from neighboring Lebanon that many residents believe that opposition is pressing into areas around Damascus that could make al-Assad much more vulnerable than he already is.
“Residents are telling us that there was intense gunfire for hours. They could hear from loudspeakers the army and the security forces asking armed men to leave one of the buildings. Al-Mazzeh is not geographically located in the heart of the capital but it’s a very important neighborhood. It is heavily guarded. There are a lot of high-ranking officials living in Al-Mazzeh, in addition to the UN headquarters, embassies, and ambassadors. This is taking place as the government claims they have control over the capital.”
The most recent clashes in Syria came after twin car bombs ripped through two neighborhoods of Damascus on Saturday 17 March 2012, which according to the Syrian interior ministry, claimed 27 lives. Another car bomb was detonated on Sunday 18 March 2012 in a residential neighborhood of Aleppo, claiming two lives.
The international community continues to struggle with the appropriate and consensus response to the situation. Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who met with al-Assad in Damascus earlier this month, ordered a team of experts to Syria to discuss a possible ceasefire and an international monitoring mission. The Arab League previously deployed a monitoring mission into Syria but it was short-lived as organizational issues and turmoil on the ground prevented its success.
Technical experts from the UN and Organization of Islamic Cooperation were in Syria on Monday 19 March 2012 to assess the humanitarian impact of the regime’s deadly crackdown on the protests. The mission, with three OIC experts in the team, will cover 15 cities and will submit a report to the Saudi-based Islamic grouping and UN on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. OIC assistant secretary general Atta Al-Mannan Bakhit shared these words with the AFP about the mission.
“The joint OIC-UN mission entered Syria on Friday to carry out an evaluation of humanitarian aid.”
Jacob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, flew to Moscow for talks on Monday 19 March 2012 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavror on the “extremely difficult” humanitarian situation in Syria’s protests hubs.
“A daily ceasefire of at least two hours is imperative to allow the evacuation of the wounded.”
While the wounded wait for the proper attention, it would seem foolish for the international community to not pursue harsh action against al-Assad directly. The security forces are clearly following his direction and it is costing many civilians their lives. When the Arab League had its monitoring mission, it was very against the idea of foreign intervention into Syria. But at this juncture, foreign intervention seems like the only possible course of actions to serve the interests of the civilians, especially the wounded. Without intervention, more suffering is imminent.
By Adom M. Cooper Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian security forces resumed their attacks on the city of Homs, causing more civilian deaths and preventing relief access to the wounded. On Sunday 04 March 2012, activists reported that a bombardment came to Syria’s third-largest city of approximately one million residents as China presented a proposal to end the violence in the country. It called for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue between all of the parties but stood firm against any type of intervention by outside forces.
In addition to Homs, the Syrian security forces also descended upon the rebel-dominated city of Rastan on Sunday 04 March 2012. According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, four children were said to be among seven civilians killed in the shelling. The victims included as many as six family members when a rocket crashed into their home, causing the building to collapse.
The focal point of the attacks by security forces has been the western Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, where the situation has been described as “catastrophic.” On Saturday 03 March 2012, there were reports of power outages, shortages of food and water, and no medical care for the sick and wounded. The Red Cross has desperately been trying to gain access to the city for three days, attempting to deliver aid and supplies to those in need. The closest that the organization has come to assisting Baba Amr is handing out food and blankets to those fortunate enough to have the ability to flee the city to nearby areas.
Syrian officials informed the Red Cross that Baba Amr had to be cleared of booby traps before they could enter the area. But activists reported that troops were carrying out reprisal attacks around the city, causing more death and violence at the expense of thousands of civilians. While the attacks continue to occur, the bodies of two foreign journalists who lost their lives for the sake of letting the world know what was happening on the ground left Syria and were headed to France. The bodies of Remi Ochlik and Marie Colvin were placed on an Air France flight from Damascus on the evening of Saturday 03 March 2012.
Rebels from the Free Syrian Army withdrew their forces from Baba Amr late last week, as the weeks of shelling from government forces made it increasingly difficult for the rebels to maintain their positions. The Syrian government gave the Red Cross permission to access Baba Amr but once the help actually arrived in the form of a convoy, the government refused to allow it to enter the city. BBC correspondent Jim Muir, reporting from Lebanon, stated that this is when the Red Cross decided to assist those who were lucky enough to flee Baba Amr. Muir also stated that the ICRC had dispatched a 15-man team to the Abil area, a southern part of Baba Amr.
ICRC spokesperson Hicham Hassan shared these words with Reuters about the developing situation.
“The plan is to continue to the neighborhoods of Inshaat and Tawzii in order to assist local populations and families displaced from Baba Amr. We really don’t know how many people are still in there. It’s all a bit of a mystery to us.”
The Syrian state television has been broadcasting pictures of deserted streets laden with debris, being careful not to display any strife on the part of civilians. There have been a multitude of unconfirmed reports of revenge killings and summary executions by Syrian forces in Baba Amr. Opposition activists believe that a government-wide cover up is responsible for the delay in bringing these reports to public attention. The reports detail mass arrests of males over the age of 11, with the local cooperative building being transformed into a detention facility.
Another report detailed that truck full of bodies was seen driving away from Baba Amr.
Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, who fled Syria after being wounded while working in Homs, told the BBC that what he saw on the ground in Baba Amr classified as “systematic slaughter.”
“I’ve done a fair few wars, I’ve never seen anything on this level.”
Activists have reported that approximately 7,500 people have lost their lives since the demonstrations and protests against President Bashar al-Assad began almost a year ago. The government had repeatedly and staunchly blamed “terrorists and armed gangs” for the violence. Regardless of who the government chooses to throw the blame on, the people of Syria continue to pay a fatal toll as each day goes by.
The international community continues to debate the appropriate course of action and each day seems to bring a new idea to the table. The proposal by China and Turkey strictly rules out the use of foreign intervention, a theme that seems so necessary at this point but will not be used. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the lack of consensus among the international community has only emboldening the Syrian government to proceed with its crackdown. Davutoglu stated that the gravity of the killing closely resembles the bloodshed of the Balkans war of the 1990s.
He described the actions of al-Assad’s regime as “crimes against humanity.” And these crimes will only continue while the rest of the world watches and reports on the situation, instead formulating and agreeing on a plan to end it.
By Adom M. Cooper Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria–As the crackdown against civilians continued across the nation, the Syrian government called its citizens to the polls on Sunday 26 February 2012 to vote on a new constitution. Although the new text of the constitution ends the legal basis for the five-decade stranglehold o power for the ruling Baath party, it still leaves the executive powers in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad. This is a tremendous problem for the situation and had already been criticized by the opposition.
The opposition stated that the changes offered were entirely cosmetic and that only the removal of al-Assad from power will bring the desired changes. After 11 months of crackdowns, human rights groups have reported that more than 7,600 individuals have lost their lives, with more deaths occurring every day.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on Saturday 25 February 2012, 98 individuals were killed and 72 of them were civilians.
On Sunday 26 February 2012, the polls opened at 7:00AM local time (5:00 GMT). Reports from the around Syria stated that more than 14 million people over the age of 18 eligible to vote appeared at the 13,835 polling stations.
Louay Safi, a leading member of the Syrian National Council, an opposition group, said that the new constitution would be fruitless in bringing about the desired change because it is being promulgated and offered by the current government. The same government that continues to violate its own laws in its ongoing efforts to crush the uprising.
“The major problem is that the government is violating the current constitution. What we fear is if the regime stays intact, the new constitution will be meaningless. So the real step to have a new constitution is to have a new or transitional government.”
In the capital of Damascus, opposition activists claimed that they would try to hold protests near polling stations and even burn copies of the new constitution. One activist named Omar shared these words with Al-Jazeera on Sunday February 26 2012.
“No one is going to vote. This was a constitution made to Bashar’s tastes and meanwhile we are getting shelled and killed. More than 40 people were killed today and you want us to vote in a referendum? No one is going to vote.”
Another activist, Waleed Fares, shared these words from the Khalidiyah district of Homs.
“What should we be voting for, whether to die by bombardment or bullets? This is the only choice we have.”
On the reverse angle, Adel Safar, the country’s prime minister, stated on Sunday 26 February 2012 that the opposition’s call for a boycott displayed a lack of interest in a substantive dialogue for change.
“If there was a genuine desire for reform, there would have been movement from all groups, especially the opposition to start dialogue immediately with the government to achieve the reforms and implement them on the ground.”
While the voting was underway, the violence did not take a break to visit the polls. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces shelled residential areas in Bab Amr for the 26th day in a row, claiming at least nine lives. The group stated that rebel soldiers had also killed at least four government troops in the city.
Al-Baath, the ruling party’s newspaper, stated in an editorial this week that the new constitution “does not represent a loss for the party and just keeps up with political and social evolution.” The new text does eliminate all references to Syrias as a social state. But Article 60 maintains the mandate that half of the deputies must be “workers and farmers.”
Al-Assad would remain in power under the new constitution, keeping several important responsibilities such as naming the prime minister and the ability to veto legislation. Another provision in the new constitution that has drawn negative attention in Article 3, which states that the president should be a Muslim and that “Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation.”
Sunni Muslims makeup 75 percent of Syria’s population of 22 million, while the Alawite community accounts for another 12 percent. President al-Assad comes from the Alawite community and this further exacerbates his refusal to relinquish his power.
Article 88 of the new constitution also states that the president can be in office for two seven-year terms. But subsequent Article 155 states that these conditions would only take effect after the next election for the head of state, which is set for 2014. This would allow al-Assad to theoretically stay in power for another 16 years. This is unacceptable for the Syrian people and quite frankly, would be a nightmare for all of them.
Syrian specialist Thomas Pierret said stated that regardless of the proposed and debated changes, the type of government and political system in Syria does not matter in a country “dominated by the intelligence service.”
“Nothing indicates that this would change under the current regime.”
By Carolyn Abdenour Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – On Thursday, 23 February, the United Nations (“U.N.”) panel announced it delivered a sealed list naming Syrian officials, including President Bashar Assad, whose actions may merit investigation by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to Geneva. The U.N.-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria found the country “manifestly failed” to protect its citizens.
The U.N. panel issued a report documenting reliable evidence exists to hold commanding officers and high-level government officials responsible for ordering security forces to commit crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations. Since protests began in March 2011, security forces have killed approximately 8,000 people. The U.N. Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva next week to review the panel’s report.
Brazilian professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, leader of this panel of experts, added the list includes armed opposition groups that committed gross abuses “not comparable in scale and organization with those carried out by the state.”
The U.N. panel relied on information from human rights activists and Syrian army defectors to compose the list because Syria denied the U.N. panel’s request to enter the country. The government believed the panel exceeded the UN mandate and ignored official information.
The panel’s report asserts the ruling Baath Party’s National Security Bureau initiated the systematic arrest or killing of citizens by translating government policies into military operations. The report also notes the country’s intelligence and security agencies “were at the heart of almost all operations.” Furthermore, it describes how Shabbiha, informal pro-government militias, received funding and arms from businessmen.
Moreover, the report highlights the Syrian army and government ordered security forces to shell residential communities, kill unarmed women and children, and torture wounded protesters receiving hospital care.
The international community has sought avenues to support Syria’s citizens. U.N. Secretary General recently expressed his desire for his humanitarian chief to negotiate access to Homs in Syria. The U.N.’s top human rights official previously asked the International Criminal Court to review the situation in Syria. This week the International Committee of the Red Cross requested a cease-fire in the worst affected areas to aid trapped and wounded victims.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague noted the European Union could tighten its sanctions against Syria further. “It is a deeply frustrating situation that people have been dying in [the] thousands…that the Assad regime has continued to act seemingly with impunity – but I think we can agree to a wider set of measures across a large group of nations,” he said.
By Adom M. Cooper Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria–In the northwest province of Idlib, several gunmen opened fire on a car carrying a senior Syrian state prosecutor and a judge, killing both of them and the driver. State news agency SANA reported that Idlib provincial state prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and Judge Mohammed Ziadeh were killed instantly in the attack. The deaths of these two Syrian officials are merely the latest casualties claimed by the perpetual chaos occurring in the country.
Earlier in the day, SANA reported that gunmen took the life of Jamal al-Bish, a member of the city council of the nearby northern city of Aleppo, which happens to be Syria’s largest. SANA stated that al-Bish was killed outside the city, a center of support for al-Assad that has been relatively quiet since the uprising began.
Syrian activists called for a “day of defiance” in Damascus on Sunday 19 February 2012 after security forces shot and killed a mourner at a funeral that turned into one of the largest anti-regime protests ever conducted in the capital. In a message to Damascus residents on their “Syrian Revolution 2001” FaceBook page, activists said: “The blood of martyrs exhorts you to disobedience,” after approximately 6,000 people have lost their lives since the demonstrations and protests began against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011. Deeb Al-Dimashqi, a member of the Syrian Revolution Council based in the capital, claimed that Syrian forces clamped tight security around the city. He shared these words with the AFP.
“We expect huge demonstrations. There is a large security presence.”
A large security presence was seen all throughout Syria. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, security forces shot dead a woman when they stormed the town of Sukhna in the Homs province in an attempt to track down wanted activists. It also reported that a man was shot dead at a checkpoint in the northern province of Aleppo.
Opposition activists also reported that police and armed patrols fanned out in the Syrian capital’s Mezze district to prevent a repeat of protests against al-Assad that have threatened his grip on Damascus. On Sunday 19 February 2012, the body of young protester Samer al-Khatib was buried in Mezze early in the morning. Security forces maintained a heavy presence to try and prevent the funeral from turning into an anti-Assad demonstration, according to opposition activists contacted by Reuters.
Fifteen pick-up trucks carrying security police and armed pro-Assad armed men, known as “shabbiha,” surrounded the funeral as the funeral was quietly conducted. Police cars and militia jeeps patrolled Mezze while secret police agents spread out on foot, stopping civilians at random and checking their identification cards. Activist Moaz al-Shami shared these words with Al-Jazeera about the situation in Mezze.
“Walking in Mezze now carries the risk of arrest. The area is quiet and even the popular food shops in Sheikh Saad are empty.”
In addition to the crackdown on potential demonstrations and protests, opposition activists have offered more disturbing information: at least 295 doctors have been arrested. The activists are calling it a “fierce” campaign to shut down the work of physicians. In many situations, doctors have been overwhelmed with trying to treat the wounded and save lives without the proper medical supplies or equipment. The majority of them work in makeshift trauma clinics covertly, for fear of being shot.
A faction of Syrian doctors were in the United States this week to urge action that will allow critical medical attention to reach those in need of it. They claim that the regime’s interference amounts to a violation of the Geneva Conventions that is meant to protect victims of armed conflict. Dr. Monzer Yazji shared these words with reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.
“We lost last week two people carrying medicine. They killed them. Just carrying medicine inside.”
On the international community front, China has emerged as a leading play in the efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria and is one of al-Assad’s main backers. The Xinhua commentary shared these words with Al-Jazeera.
“China believes, as many others do, there is still hope that Syria crisis can be resolved through peaceful dialogue between the opposition and the government, contrary to some Western countries’ argument that time is running out for talks in Syria.”
Meanwhile, the West has ruled out any type of military intervention in Syria like what happened with Libya. British Foreign Minister William Hague supported this view with BBC on Sunday 19 February 2012.
“We cannot intervene in the way we did in Libya, we will do many other things. I am worried that Syria is going to slide into a civil war and that our powers to do something about it are very constrained because, as everyone has seen, we have not been able to pass a resolution at the UN Security Council because of Russian and Chinese opposition.”
Syria’s main opposition groups have rejected a newly drafted constitution that could end nearly five decades of single-party rule, and have urged voters to boycott a 26 February referendum on the charter. The opposition feels that until the requisite attention is given to its activists and civilians, there will not be a consensus. With doctors being targeted for trying to help wounded demonstrators and protesters, it seems that the chaos will continue until the proper attention is directed in the proper direction.
By Adom M. Cooper Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria–After Damascus rejected an Arab plan to send a peacekeeping force in a desperate attempt to quell the unrest, regime forces resumed their assault on the Syrian protest city of Homs on Monday 13 February 2012. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, just before sunrise, the military launched mortars into Baba Amr, a rebel stronghold in the central city, as forces swept through the southern province of Daraa, arresting dissidents. The Britain-based Observatory shared these words in a statement released to the AFP.
“The neighborhood of Baba Amr has been subjected to sporadic sheeling since 5:00AM (03:00 GMT) by the Syrian army. Forces launched an assault and are arresting people in Basra Al-Sham after an explosion in Dael, in Daraa province. There were fierce clashes between defectors and the army which stormed Lajat and arrested the mothers of four dissidents.”
Activists and rights groups claim that al-Assad’s forces have killed at least 500 individuals in Homs since they began attacking the central city on 4 February 2012 with a barrage of tank shells, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades.
As the number of deaths continues to mount, the international community still is trying to find a way to end the violence in Syria. Yusuf Ahmed, Syria’s envoy in Cairo, said that the Arab League’s plan calling for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to end Syria’s 11-month conflict “reflected the hysteria of these governments.” The European Union backed the Arab League’s plan but Russia came forward and said that the violence must end before any peacekeepers could be sent. Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said these words with BBC.
“We welcome these bold decisions and the strong and clear commitment and leadership that the Arab League is taking to resolve the crisis in Syria. The EU’s first goal is an immediate cessation of killings and therefore we are very supportive of any initiative that can help achieve this objective, including a stronger Arab presence on the ground in co-operation with the UN to achieve a ceasefire and the end of the violence. We renew our urgent calls on members of the Security Council to be constructive and act with responsibility at this crucial moment.”
The UN General Assembly started its own debate on the Syrian crisis. UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay, who has been very critical of the actions of al-Assad’s regime, is set to address the assembly in New York this week. The Arab League stated in a statement to the AFP that it was ending all diplomatic cooperation with Syria and promised to give “political and material support” to the opposition.
“We will open channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and offer full political and financial support, urging the opposition to unify its ranks. We also plan to ask the UN Security Council to issue a decision on the formation of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire.”
Burham Ghalioun, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, welcome the moves as a “first step” towards the fall of the regime. As the military continued its destruction on Homs, refugees made their way across the border to Lebanon, hoping to escape the carnage. Abu Ibrahim, a resident of Homs, shared these words with the AFP. He made a point of bringing up his 10-year-old daughter, who has refused food since witnessing dead bodies in the streets of Homs.
“The army of Bashar al-Assad destroyed our homes. Before, we were bombarded by mortars or rocket-propelled grenades, but now they are using tanks and helicopters.”
The Syrian Aran Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that their volunteers are “distributing food, medical supplies, blankes, and hygiene consumables to thousands of people in Homs.”
“The population, particularly the wounded and sick, are bearing the brunt of the violence.”
On Sunday 12 February 2012, Syrian state television showed an official funeral for the 28 people authorities say were killed two days earlier in twin car bombs in the northern city of Aleppo. The government still stands by its allegation that the blame for the attacks should be placed on foreign-backed “terrorists.” But the rebel Free Syrian Army had accused the regime of carrying out the bombings to divert attention away from its brutal offensives elsewhere.
Regardless of who is responsible for the attacks on Syrian civilians, the fact remains that deaths are still occurring every day without any sort of reason. The Arab League ended its observer mission last month, leaving the people of Syria at the complete mercy of al-Assad’s regime. Until countries such as Russia and China decide that it is acceptable to send help in, it does not appear that the violence will stop and civilians will continue to suffer as the international community stands on the sidelines. With al-Assad’s regime still calling the plays on the field in the form of bombings, there seems to be no chance for the violence against the people of Syria to cease.
By Adom M. Cooper Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
HOMS, Syria–One day after a UN Security Council resolution aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria was vetoed by China and Russia, the Syrian army has increased its attacks on opposition fighters in Homs. The Syrian Revolution General Commission, an opposition group, stated that 15 individuals were killed in Homs on Monday 06 February 2012 and at least three others were killed in Aleppo. Al-Jazeera received video from opposition activists that depicted apparent devastation caused by a military offensive in the Bab Amr neighborhood of Homs.
Activists and witnesses said the army had been shelling the neighborhood “indiscriminately” since the morning of Sunday 05 February 2012. Abu Abdo Alhomsy, an activist of a revolutionary council in Homs, shared these words with Al-Jazeera on Monday 06 February 2012 concerning the attacks.
“It is horrible right here. Rockets are falling. There are massive explosions that shook buildings. We don’t know really what to do. It’s a massive attack-a new massacre is happening here. Nobody can go out, we don’t know how many homes have been hit or how many people died.”
Danny Abdul Dayem, a resident of Homs, shared these words with Al-Jazeera concerning the shelling in Bab Amr. Video images have surfaced showing people who have been shot and hit by shrapnel, including children sustaining fatal injuries.
“It has been terrible. There is non-stop bombing with rockets, mortar bombs, and tank shells. There were more than 50 people injured in Bab Amr today. I saw with my own eyes kids with no legs, and a kid who lost his whole bottom jaw. It is terrible.”
Dayem also indicated that only one field hospital with four doctors was still operating in the city and that it was virtually impossible to get additional medication for anything short of a gunshot wound.
The Syrian state television has denied that there had been any such bombardment in the country. It stated that residents were setting fire to piles of rubbish on the roofs of their homes in an attempt to trick the world into believing that there was an attack. The phrase “terrorist gangs” was used to describe whom was responsible for the blown up buildings in Homs. The government has come out and said that it is fighting foreign-backed armed groups
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a London-based rights organization, army deserters in the northeast region of the country destroyed a military control post early on Monday 06 February 2012, killing three officers and capturing 19 soldiers. The fighting occurred in the village of Al Bara in the Edleb region and that none of the army deserters involved in the skirmish lost their lives.
The death toll in Syria rose to at least 88 people over the weekend, deemed one of the bloodiest since the demonstrations and protests against al-Assad’s regime began nearly 11 months ago. The chaos and turmoil in the country has claimed at least 6,000 lives total in Syria, according to various opposition groups.
The international community continues to react to the situation in Syria instead of taking a proactive approach. According to French authorities, The European Union (EU) is set to strengthen sanctions imposed on Syria in a bid to boost pressure on the government. Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, shared these words with BFMTV television on Sunday 05 February 2012.
“Europe will again harden sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime. We will try to increase this international pressure and there will come a time when the regime will have to realize that it is completely isolated and cannot continue.”
The United States closed its embassy in Syria and pulled out its remaining staff on Monday 06 February 2012, citing serious security concerns as al-Assad’s regime increased its crackdown, causing more bloodshed. The State Department released a statement containing the following on the decision to close the Syrian embassy.
“The United States has suspended operations of our embassy in Damascus as of 06 February. Ambassador Robert Ford and all American personnel have now departed the country. The recent surge in violence, including bombings in Damascus on 23 December and 06 January, has raised serious concerns that our embassy is not sufficiently protested from armed attack.”
With all of the attacks and death occurring the around the nation, it can only be extremely disheartening to Syrian civilians to see nations such as China and Russia veto a UN Security Council resolution and the US close its embassy. Regardless of what the “big-time” actors are doing, people are still suffering and dying on the ground. These are the same people that are continually at the mercy of al-Assad’s regime. It would seem that the only way for these people’s voices to be heard and acted on is the permanent absence of al-Assad’s regime. Much like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Moammar Gaddafi of Libya, the permanent absence of a multi-decade dictator is the only way for the demonstrations and protests to actually mean something for change.
For more information, please see:
Ahram – US Closes Syria Embassy, Pulls Out All Staff – 06 February 2012
By Tyler Yates Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria — Russia and China voted against a draft resolution that would have condemned a crackdown on anti-government protests in Syria and called on Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to step aside.
The countries, two of the United Nations Security Council’s permanent members, have veto power over resolutions put before the Council.
A statement from the Russian ambassador to the United Nations said the resolution, “sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties” by not condemning violence on the part of the armed opposition to the same degree that it did for the Syrian government.
Internationally, the vetoes received tremendous criticism. Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs said the vetoes sent “ a very bad signal to [President Bashar al-Assad] that there is a license to kill.” Other Western and Arab leaders echoed Qatar’s reaction.
Europe will strengthen sanctions imposed on Damascus in a bid to boost pressure on the regime, France said on Sunday. The United States has vowed to block funding and arms supplies to Syria.
“We will work to seek regional and national sanctions against Syria and strenghten the ones we have. They will be implemented to the fullest to dry up the sources of funding and the arms shipments that are keeping the regime’s war machine going,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday.
Despite these international efforts the opposition in Syria is now forced to attempt to stop the government crackdown by itself.
Colonel Riad al-Asaad, commander of the FSA, said that “there is no other road” except military action by his fighters to topple Assad.
Iran welcomed the vetoes from China and Russia, calling the sanctions “just.”
“The Security Council has become a tool for the West’s bullying … of other nations, and this time Russia and China stood up against it,” one of Iran’s top diplomat said.
The Syrian government also saw the vetoes as a victory, saying that the result should be an acceptance of the regime’s program for solving the evolving crisis.
The Tishreen, a state run newspaper, called the vetoes an incentive for Damascus to continue with its announced political reforms, which include drafting a new constitution, allowing the formation of new political parties, and holding parliamentary elections.
It further suggested that the international community support talks between the government and the opposition.
At the same time, it declared that the government would continue with its crackdown, saying it would “restore what the Syrians enjoyed for decades and what they are demanding today which is stability and security and confronting all forms of terrorism.”