“The commission received credible and consistent evidence identifying high- and mid-ranking members of the armed forces who ordered their subordinates to shoot at unarmed protesters, kill soldiers who refused to obey such orders, arrest persons without cause, mistreat detained persons and attack civilian neighbourhoods with indiscriminate tanks and machine gun fire,” the report said.
[LONDON, 23 February 2012] - A United Nations panel concluded on Thursday that “gross human rights violations” had been ordered by the Syrian authorities as state policy at “the highest levels of the armed forces and the government,” amounting to crimes against humanity.
The panel of three investigators, led by Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil, did not release the names of the officials it had identified as bearing responsibility. Instead, they delivered the names in a sealed envelope to the United Nations’ top human rights official.
The 72-page report published by the panel said that the insurgent Free Syrian Army, made up of defectors from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, had also committed abuses, but those were “not comparable in scale and organisation to those carried out by the state."
The investigators said the report was based on 369 interviews with victims, witnesses, defectors and other people with “inside knowledge” of the situation in Syria. They also examined photographs, video recordings and satellite imagery to corroborate some witness accounts. The investigators said they were not allowed to enter Syria to conduct inquiries at first hand.
The report, delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was published as security forces continued to bombard areas of Homs, a city in central Syria, for a 20th successive day on Thursday, despite a growing outcry and international calls for the creation of humanitarian corridors to reach the sick, the wounded and the frail.
The newest shelling, reported by activists, came on the eve of a major international gathering Tunisia to seek a way out of the crisis. Some reports from Homs said that tanks had pressed into contested areas of the city where opponents of the government say hundreds of trapped civilians have died. The Homs campaign has become one of the deadliest in nearly a year of violent repression by the government of President Assad.
The foreign ministers of several European and Arab countries met in London on Thursday ahead of the international “friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis on Friday to discuss ways to bolster Syria’s opposition forces. They discussed efforts to provide humanitarian assistance, especially urgently needed medical supplies in battered cities like Homs.
A senior State Department official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that countries were ready to provide considerable assistance “within days” through United Nations relief agencies, but that “the real challenge is the access issue.”
The countries gathering in Tunis are expected to call on Syria’s government to allow relief supplies into areas now under assault. “The challenge is on the Syrian regime to respond to this,” the official said.
The United Nations report argued that Syria was now “on the brink” of civil war and “the continuation of the crisis carries the risk of radicalising the population, deepening inter-communal tensions and eroding the fabric of society."
The document spoke of torture and killing of civilians.
“The commission received credible and consistent evidence identifying high- and mid-ranking members of the armed forces who ordered their subordinates to shoot at unarmed protesters, kill soldiers who refused to obey such orders, arrest persons without cause, mistreat detained persons and attack civilian neighbourhoods with indiscriminate tanks and machine gun fire,” the investigators said.
“A reliable body of evidence exists that, consistent with other verified circumstances, provides reasonable grounds to believe that particular individuals, including commanding officers and officials at the highest levels of government, bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations,” the report said.
The report said that “gross human rights violations were conducted pursuant to a policy of the state” and the “orders to commit such violations originated from policies and directives issued at the highest levels of the armed forces and the government.”
The panel said it had “deposited with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights a sealed envelope containing the names of these people, which might assist future credible investigations by competent authorities.” It said the envelope’s contents identified insurgent groups “for which the commission documented human rights abuses.”
The report did not suggest which “competent authorities” might investigate the abuses.
There was no immediate response by the Syrian authorities. Earlier allegations of human rights abuses, made last November, were rejected as false by the Syrian diplomatic mission in Geneva in a statement [from] 23 January that said “armed terrorist groups,” not government forces, were responsible.
Among the scores of people that activist groups reported killed by rockets and bombs through the day on Wednesday, two were Western journalists, the veteran American war correspondent Marie Colvin, who had been working for The Sunday Times of London, and a young French photographer, Rémi Ochlik. The two had been working in a makeshift media center that was destroyed in the assault, raising suspicions that Syrian security forces might have identified its location by tracing satellite signals. Experts say that such tracking is possible with sophisticated equipment.
The killings provoked an outcry with powerful media figures and European politicians calling on Syrian forces to permit the retrieval of the bodies and to allow the Red Cross to enter areas where civilians say they are under relentless siege, running short of food and medical supplies. At least two other journalists were injured on Wednesday and their newspapers in London and Paris said they were trying to find ways to rescue them.
The French prime minister, François Fillon, indentified one of the wounded journalists as Edith Bouvier, a 31-year-old freelancer for the daily newspaper, Le Figaro. Video on YouTube showed her and Mr. Conroy, an Irish freelance photographer who had been working with Ms. Colvin, lying in what appeared to be a makeshift clinic with bandages on their legs. French media reports on Thursday said that Ms. Bouvier had appealed for a speedy rescue because she needs urgent medical treatment.
Late Wednesday, British officials summoned the Syrian ambassador, Sami Khiyami, to protest the continued attacks on Homs, the Foreign Office said in a statement. The officials also demanded that the authorities in Damascus make immediate arrangements for the repatriation of Ms. Colvin’s body and the evacuation of a wounded photographer, Paul Conroy, who had also been working for The Sunday Times.
Western diplomats quoted by Reuters said, however, that it had not yet been possible to evacuate the wounded or retrieve the journalists’ bodies.
According to Syria’s official SANA news agency, the Foreign Ministry in Damascus on Thursday rejected “all statements that hold Syria accountable for the death of journalists who infiltrated Syria at their own risk without the Syrian authorities’ knowledge of their entry and whereabouts.” Speaking on the BBC on Thursday, Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain, said that “people have been dying in their thousands, that continues. The Assad regime has continued to act seemingly with impunity.”
“It is a deeply frustrating situation,” Mr. Hague said, forecasting that the international conference on Syria in Tunisia on Friday would seek to establish a “wide set of measures across a large group of nations” to place a “diplomatic and economic stranglehold” on Syria. There would also be further steps at the United Nations to put pressure on Mr. Assad, even though Russia and China have combined to block Western and Arab League efforts to force him from power.
Russia has said it will not attend the Tunisia meeting and news reports on Thursday said China had not committed itself to attending, blunting the gathering’s chances of securing strong action against Mr. Assad’s government.
Activists, civilian journalists and foreign correspondents who have snuck into Syria have infuriated the authorities and foiled the government’s efforts to control the coverage of clashes, which have claimed thousands of Syrian lives in the last year and which Mr. Assad portrays as caused by an armed insurgency.
Last week, Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for The New York Times, died of an apparent asthma attack in Syria on Thursday after spending nearly a week reporting covertly in the northern area of Idlib, near the Turkish border.
The United Nations stopped tallying the deaths in the 11-month uprising after the toll passed 5,400 in January, because it could no longer verify the numbers. Efforts by the Arab League and United Nations to stem the violence have so far had little traction, with Syria’s remaining allies — China, Iran and Russia — continuing to stand by it.
But the latest deaths of journalists, on top of the agonising civilian toll, focused a new wave of international revulsion and anger on Mr. Assad and the Syria government. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said the killings showed that “enough is enough, this regime must go. There is no reason why Syrians should not have the right to live their lives, to freely choose their destiny.”
- SYRIA: Whole city besieged to "wipe out pockets of armed terrorists” (22 February 2012)
- SYRIA: SRSG Coomaraswamy calls to immediately halt all violations against children (9 February 2012)
- SYRIA: Children severely tortured in detention (3 February 2012)
- SYRIA: Activists report 'terrifying massacre' in Syrian city of Homs, with dozens killed (27 January 2012)
- SYRIA: Remembering child victims of military crackdown (17 January 2012)
- SYRIA: 6,200 killed, including 400 children (9 January 2012)
- UN: Security Council urged to refer Syria to the ICC (13 December 2011)
- SYRIA: Boy, 10, slain in home by sniper (12 December 2011)
- SYRIA: Assad denies responsibility for the killing of thousands of anti-government protesters (7 December 2011)
- SYRIA: Human Rights Council adopts resolution and establishes mandate for Special Rapporteur (5 December 2011)
- SYRIA: Children's rights violations feature in Special Session on Syria (2 December 2011)
- UN: Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (November 2011)
- SYRIA: UN rights panel voices alarm at reported torture of children (25 November 2011)
- SYRIA: Wave of violence targets children (23 November 2011)
- SYRIA: Death toll surpasses 3,500 (9 November 2011)
- SYRIA: Three children among latest killed (28 October 2011)
- SYRIA: NGOs appeal to UN General Assembly to condemn violence (24 October 2011)
- SYRIA: Concerns over “rampant torture” (7 October 2011)
- SYRIA: New report indicates over 5,000 deaths since March, including 148 children (Avvaz, 22 September 2011)
- SYRIA: Death toll tops 2,700, including 100 children (20 September 2011)
- SYRIA: Boy, 12, shot dead during funeral procession (13 September 2011)
- SYRIA: President of HRC appoints investigative commission to probe human rights violations (12 September 2011)
- SYRIA: Teen killed as protesters call for international protection (9 September 2011)
- SYRIA: Amnesty report shows 88 civilians killed in detention, including 10 children (31 August 2011)
- SYRIA: A child's killing freeze-frames tragedy (17 August 2011)
- SYRIA: Over 70 children killed since March (5 August 2011)
- SYRIA: Defectors describe orders to shoot unarmed protesters (18 July 2011)
- SYRIA: Second teenager tortured to death (16 June 2011)
- SYRIA: Soldier 'ordered to fire' on peaceful protesters (10 June 2011)
- More on children's rights in Syria
Previous News release items
- 22/02/2012: SYRIA: U.S. and French reporters killed in Baba Amro shelling (Arabic)سوريا
- 22/02/2012: MALAYSIA: Bookshops ordered to stop selling sex education book
- 22/02/2012: AUSTRALIA: Scientology's child labour camp exposed
- 22/02/2012: ACCOUNTABILITY: Corporations must be held accountable for human rights violations
- 22/02/2012: SOMALIA: Warring Parties Put Children at Grave Risk (Arabic)
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Last updated 23/02/2012 15:52:11