Amnesty International Report Reveals Atrocities Against Civilians in Syrian Town Near Lebanese Border During Brutal May Security Sweep

Press Release
July 6, 2011

Amnesty International Report Reveals Atrocities Against Civilians in Syrian Town Near Lebanese Border During Brutal May Security Sweep

Witnesses Describe Deaths, Torture, Arbitrary Arrests and Detention of Scores of Men and Boys, Indicating Crimes Against Humanity

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

(New York) -- Security forces committed atrocities against Syrian civilians in the town of Tell Kalakh near the Lebanese border to crush dissent in May --rounding up men and boys, arresting them and torturing them in detention for weeks, according to witnesses who described the abuses to Amnesty International.  The human rights organization concluded in a report today that the brutality constitutes crimes against humanity.

At least nine people died in custody and one person was killed by snipers, according to witnesses who spoke to Amnesty International.

Crackdown in Syria: Terror in Tell Kalakh documents the deaths in custody, torture and arbitrary detention that took place beginning May 14 when Syrian army and security forces mounted a broad security sweep, lasting less than a week.

Amnesty International said the abuses committed in Tell Kalakh amount to crimes against humanity as they appear to be part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.

"The accounts paint a deeply disturbing picture of systematic, targeted abuses to crush dissent," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

"Most of the crimes would fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. But the U.N. Security Council must first refer the situation in Syria to the Court's Prosecutor."

The findings are based on interviews carried out in person in Lebanon and by phone with more than 50 people in May and June. Amnesty International has not been allowed to enter Syria.

The operation began on May 14 when the army and security forces entered Tell Kalakh following a demonstration calling for the downfall of the regime.

At least one person, Ali al-Basha, 24, was killed on that first day, apparently by snipers, and even the ambulance carrying his body came under fire. As many tried to leave, Syrian forces fired on fleeing families.

The following days saw scores of male residents, including some older than 60 and boys younger than 18 , rounded up and detained. Every family from Tell Kalakh that Amnesty International met in Lebanon said they had at least one relative in detention.

Most of those detained were tortured, some even as they were being arrested, according to accounts. In one incident, soldiers transporting detainees counted how many they had arrested by stabbing lit cigarettes on the backs of their necks.

Detainees told Amnesty International that military securityused the shabah (ghost) method, in which a detainee is forced into a stress position for long periods and beaten.  The detainees were tied by the wrists to a bar high enough off the ground to force them to stand on the tip of their toes.

 "Mahmoud," 20, who was arrested on May 16, and released after nearly a month in detention, was held for around five days at the Military Security detention facility in Homs:
"Each day [was] the same story. They tied me up in the shabah position and applied electricity to my body and testicles. Sometimes I screamed very loudly and begged the interrogator to stop. He didn't care."
At least nine people died in custody, according to witnesses. Eight of these men -- some of whom had been active in demonstrations -- were shot and wounded as they were ordered out of a house, and were then taken away by soldiers.

Two weeks later, relatives were told to go to a military hospital to identify the bodies. Witnesses said the bodies had marks on them that suggested torture, including cuts to the chest, long vertical slashes on the thighs and what seemed to be gunshot wounds on the back of the legs.

A forensic pathologist analyzed a photograph of one of the men, Abd al-Rahman Abu Libdeh, for Amnesty International and concluded that he seemed to have sustained violent injuries to the face, shoulders and neck while still alive.

Some of the family members who went to identify the bodies of their sons said they were forced to sign a document stating that their sons were killed by armed gangs.

Amnesty International knows that a number of people arrested in Tell Kalakh still remain in detention, including a 17-year-old boy.

The organization called on the Syrian authorities to release all individuals arbitrarily arrested and detained for peaceful demonstrations or expressing dissent.

Amnesty International repeated its call for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. It also urged the Syrian authorities to provide unimpeded access to U.N. investigators currently looking into the human rights situation in Syria.