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Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (212)633-4150

(New York) — Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told Congress today that the world must respond to the grave situation in Syria, including escalating torture of protesters, and stop “enabling” the bloodshed that has cost more than 7,000 lives.

"The crushing violence of the government of Syria is destroying the hopes of the Syrian people for human rights and political reform," Nossel said in testimony before the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, chaired by Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Fran R. Wolf (R-VA).

"At a time when other Middle Eastern and North African countries are making profound political changes, the government of Syria has chosen to respond in an utterly ruthless manner to smash the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the Syrian people. The time has come for global leaders to behave responsibly – not as enablers of violence that has brutally cut short the lives of thousands of Syrians."

The abuses committed by the government of President Bashar al-Assad constitute crimes against humanity, Nossel said, noting that Amnesty International has documented a systematic pattern of abuse carried out by the Syrian security forces against rebel fighters and civilians (To read the full testimony, go to:http://t.co/HIsR3Qyi)

Amnesty International documented 31 methods of torture in its latest report on Syria, I Wanted to Die: Syria's Torture Survivors Speak Out, which tells the stories of prisoners who were brutally tortured at the hands of Syrian security forces.

Nossel brought several of these cases to the attention of the committee and also addressed the failure of the international community to adequately address the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. She said Amnesty International continues to call on the governments of Russia and China to use their influence with the Syrian government to demand an end to the bloodshed, despite the double veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the abuses earlier this year.

"The double veto was a shockingly callous betrayal of the people of Syria," said Nossel. "Following the veto, there was an escalation in the use of force by the Syrian authorities against several residential areas of Homs. The Syrian government seems to have interpreted the veto as a green light to crush opposition in Syria by any means."

Nossel detailed Amnesty International's world-wide campaign to pressure governments to demand action on Syria. She said supporters in the United States delivered more than 90,000 letters to the embassies of India, South Africa and Brazil urging action in the Security Council. She also said Amnesty International activists had contacted the Russian government more than 70,000 times urging it to use its influence with Syria to end the violence.

"For the long-term, we demand accountability for the victims of the conflict," Nossel said. "We also call on the U.N. to ensure that any U.N. mission to supervise an end to armed violence in Syria must include as part of its work the monitoring and reporting of human rights violations and abuses, including crimes against humanity."

Amnesty International has received the names of more than 7,200 individuals killed in the year-long conflict in Syria, most by government security forces, though the actual number is likely to be much higher.

She also noted that tens of thousands of Syrians have been arrested arbitrarily, held incommunicado, tortured and ill-treated. In addition, deaths in custody have rocketed from four or five a year documented over a decade to 276 reported to Amnesty International in the first 12 months of the crisis.

Nossel said while government security forces are responsible for the overwhelming majority of human rights abuses, Amnesty International is investigating reports of abuse committed by the armed opposition groups, including the kidnapping and killing of individuals apparently targeted because they were outspoken about their support of the government or were members of the armed gangs known as shabiha.

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.