Reports Increase of Unlawful Killings of Captured Security Forces by Opposition Forces in Syria

Press Release
July 25, 2012

Reports Increase of Unlawful Killings of Captured Security Forces by Opposition Forces in Syria

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – Amnesty International said today the discovery of 19 bodies in Damascus mirror a pattern of unlawful killings by government forces and militias documented elsewhere in Syria by the human rights organization. Amnesty International said it is receiving an increasing number of reports of members of armed opposition groups committing similar human rights abuses including unlawful killings of captured security forces.

Reports that government forces and armed opposition groups deliberately and unlawfully captured and killed opponents in Syria bolster the need for all sides to commit to abiding by international humanitarian law (IHL), Amnesty International said today.

Earlier this week, the bodies of 19 unarmed men and one child were found in several locations in the Damascus neighborhood of al-Mezzeh. According to local activists government forces killed the victims on suspicion of aiding rebels in the area. Activists said some of the victims had their hands tied behind their backs, and some bore marks indicating they had been tortured before being killed.

Although Amnesty cannot directly confirm these reports, they mirror a pattern the organization has documented elsewhere in the country.

"Amnesty International has been documenting unlawful killings carried out by state forces and government militias in Syria for months. Our field research in northern Syria found scores of mainly men and boys – most of whom who had not been engaged in hostilities – being summarily killed by government forces, and shabiha militia members, after prolonged shelling of city districts, towns and villages suspected of harboring opposition fighters and supporters," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program deputy director.

"We have also been investigating reports that members of armed opposition groups have been responsible for the killings of captured members of the security forces and other unlawful killings. The leadership of all sides must make it clear that they will not tolerate such abuses by anyone under their command."

The reports of the al-Mezzeh deaths followed statements attributed to Iraq's Deputy Interior Minister who told the AFP news agency that Iraqi soldiers on Thursday, July 19 witnessed members of the Free Syria Army kill 22 captured members of the Syrian armed forces after taking control of a border post between the two countries.

If confirmed, these killings would constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes.

There have been hundreds of cases, including those Amnesty documented, of members of the Syrian government's security forces and pro-government militia deliberately killing captured fighters, suspected opponents and others.

More recently, Amnesty received an increasing number of reports of members of the armed opposition groups committing similar, as well as other, abuses.

Among other information, the organization has seen video clips purportedly depicting members of Syrian armed opposition groups summarily killing individuals.

In a video clip uploaded on July 5, 2012, a man identified as Ahmed Fadhel Ahmed, an Air Force Intelligence official (musa'id awwal), is seen sitting before a hole in a field allegedly in the Aleppo area. He is then shot dead with several bullets to the upper body and head.

Another video clip appears to show the killing of a man named as Abu Wa'el Rashid, who is thrown out of a second- or third-floor window. The narrator – who says that the footage was shot in Nabek, in Damascus governorate, on June 15, 2012 – says "this is the fate of all traitors, of those who collaborate with security and shabiha."

The description of the clip says the al-Nur Battalion, which Amnesty International believes to be a Salafist armed group not part of the Free Syria Army, carried out the execution.

Information received by Amnesty International, including oral testimony, video clips and media reports indicates armed groups captured and may have killed dozens of individuals suspected of working for or aiding the Syrian government's security forces and pro-government militia.

Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions, which applies to all parties in non-international armed conflicts such as the one currently taking place in Syria, prohibits "murder of all kinds" and "the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court."

"In armed conflict, all parties, including armed opposition groups, are legally bound by the rules of international humanitarian law. Serious violations of IHL are war crimes, and those responsible can expect to be brought to account in the future," Harrison said.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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