By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria is calling for an emergency meeting of the Arab League’s heads of state to discuss the continuing unrest throughout the country. The request comes a day after the regional organization threatened to suspend its membership if Syria did not stop its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.
The Arab League gave Syria three days to end its crackdown or face sanctions. The action, which is the Arab League’s strongest against Syria since the violence began in mid-March, does not amount to a full suspension of Syria’s membership from the organization.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently classified the systematic nature of abuses by Syrian government forces as an indication of crimes against humanity. It urged the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo and sanctions, as well as referring Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The report released by HRW focused on abuses in the Syrian city of Homs and its surrounding areas. Homs has become the focal point for insurgencies against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and in the period between mid-April to August security forces killed approximately 587 civilians. Since 2 November at least another 104 people have been killed.
“Homs is a microcosm of the Syrian government’s brutality,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at HRW.
Security forces have conducted large-scale military operations in the area surrounding Homs. These operations involve the usage of heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns to fire into neighborhoods with the intention of frightening people. The security forces have also cut off communications, and restricted the movements of people, food, and medicine by establishing checkpoints.
Throughout Syria, people have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and systematic torture in detention. Most are released after several weeks in detention, but many are still missing. The detainees are mainly composed of young men in their 20s and 30s, but witnesses report that people in their 60s and 70s have also been detained.
Allegations of torture of detainees are rampant throughout Syria. Former detainees report the use of heated metal rods to burn various parts of their body, the use of electric shocks, the use of stress positions for hours or even days, and the use of improvised devices such as car tires to force detainees into positions that make it easier to torture specific sensitive body parts.
There are a large number of reported deaths occurring in custody. HRW was able to confirm around 17 such deaths independently, and in many of the cases it reviewed video or photos of the bodies that revealed signs of torture.
The Syrian government has repeatedly argued that armed terrorist gangs funded from outside countries are carrying out the violence.
The United Nations human rights office reports that the death toll in Syria has surpassed 3,500.
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera — Syria calls for Arab League meeting — 14 Nov. 2011
CNN — Report says Syrian crackdown amounts to crimes against humanity — 11 Nov. 2011
Human Rights Watch — Syria: Crimes Against Humanity in Homs — 11 Nov. 2011
United Nations — Death toll passes 3,500 as Syrian crackdown continues, says UN human rights office — 08 Nov. 2011