A press release by the Human Rights Watch on torture in Syria, released on April 9, 2012, says that Syrian security forces summarily executed over 100 – and possibly many more – civilians and wounded or captured opposition fighters during recent attacks on cities and towns.
The 25-page report, “In Cold Blood: Summary Executions by Syrian Security Forces and Pro-Government Militias,” documents more than a dozen incidents involving at least 101 victims since late 2011, many of them in March 2012.
HRW documented the involvement of Syrian forces and pro-government shabeeha militias in summary and extrajudicial executions in the governorates of Idlib and Homs. Government and pro-government forces not only executed opposition fighters they had captured, or who had otherwise stopped fighting and posed no threat, but also civilians who likewise posed no threat to the security forces.
“In a desperate attempt to crush the uprising, Syrian forces have executed people in cold blood, civilians and opposition fighters alike,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “They are doing it in broad daylight and in front of witnesses, evidently not concerned about any accountability for their crimes.”
HRW called on the UN Security Council to ensure that any UN mission mandated to supervise the six-point plan brokered by the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan would be in a position to document such crimes. This would be best achieved by sending, alongside military observers, properly equipped human rights monitors able to safely and independently interview victims of human rights abuses, while protecting them from retaliation.
Since the end of 2011, when Syrian forces intensified their military campaign on cities and towns that they believe to be opposition strongholds, hundreds of other people have died as a result of artillery attacks, sniper fire, or lack of medical assistance.
The exact number of victims of the extrajudicial executions is impossible to verify given the difficulties of accessing and evaluating the information from Syria. But Human Rights Watch documented at least 12 cases of executions in Idlib and Homs governorates. Human Rights Watch has received additional reports of many more similar incidents, but included in this report only cases in which researchers personally interviewed witnesses to the incidents.
In the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, at least 85 victims were Syrian residents who did not take part in the fighting, including women and children. The report describes in detail several cases of mass executions of civilians, including the killing of at least 13 men in the Bilal mosque in Idlib on March 11, the execution of at least 25 men during a search-and-arrest operation in the Sultaniya neighborhood of Homs on March 3, and the killing of at least 47 people, mainly women and children, in the `Adwiyya, Karm al-Zaytoun, and Refa`i neighborhoods of Homs on March 11 and 12.
In these cases, Syrian security forces, operating alone or together with pro-government Shabeeha militias, captured and executed people who were trying to escape as the army took over their towns, shot or stabbed people in their homes as the security forces entered the captured towns, or executed detained residents while conducting house searches.
For example, Louai, a resident who stayed in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs after the army took it over, described the execution of his brother and four of his neighbors on March 2. Louai, who asked that his real name not be used for fear of reprisals, said that the army first entered his neighbors’ house, dragged the four men who were there outside, and slaughtered them with knives in front of their families. The soldiers then came into Louai’s house, and, when he and his brother raised their hands, shot at them both, wounding Louai and killing his brother.
Human Rights Watch also documented the executions of at least 16 opposition fighters, whom the Syrian security forces shot point blank after they had been captured or wounded and were no longer fighting. Those cases raised concerns that the army has adopted a policy, official or unofficial, of taking no prisoners.