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Urgent International Action Needed with New Evidence of Grave Human Rights Abuses

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) — Amnesty International today documented the shocking escalation of killings, torture, and destruction of proper inside Syria, including a campaign of reprisals in which soldiers are pulling men from their homes, executing them in cold blood only feet from their families, then setting the bodies on fire.

The human rights organization said the atrocities highlight the urgent need for decisive international action to stem widespread attacks on civilians by government forces and militias which act with utter impunity.

In Aleppo, Syria's largest city, on several occasions in the last week of May, Amnesty International watched uniformed security forces and plain clothes shabiha militia members firing live rounds against peaceful demonstrators, killing and injuring protesters and passers-by, including children.

Amnesty International’s latest report, Deadly Reprisals: Deliberate Killings and Other Abuses by Syria’s Armed Forces, provides new evidence of widespread crimes against humanity and war crimes as the frequency and brutality of government reprisals against towns and villages supportive of the opposition has escalated. The report describes the deliberate, wanton and systematic destruction of homes, shops, and medical facilities. The atrocities are being perpetrated as part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting the opposition and to frighten people into submission.

"For more than a year, the U.N. Security Council has dithered, while a human rights crisis unfolded in Syria," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser, who spent several weeks investigating human rights violations in northern Syria. "It must now break the impasse and take concrete action to end to these violations and to hold to account those responsible."

"The Syrian government's attempts to block access to Amnesty International, other human rights monitors and the international media, have failed to shield it from scrutiny. This report provides further detailed evidence that the Syrian authorities are engaged in a sustained, widespread and brutal attack against their own civilian population," Rovera said.

Although Syrian authorities refused to give Amnesty International official permission to enter the country, the organization spent weeks investigating grave human rights violations in northern Syria, most recently from mid April to the end of May, including in north-western Idlib governorate, in Idlib city and the surrounding areas (Hazzano, Killi, Saraqueb, Sarmin and Taftanaz) and in the Jebel Al-Oustani and Jebel al-Zawiyah areas as well as in the northern governorate of Aleppo. Researchers conducted more than 200 interviews.

Amnesty International visited 23 towns and villages in the Aleppo and Idlib governorates, including areas where Syrian government forces launched large scale attacks during negotiations over the implementation of the U.N.-Arab League-sponsored six-point ceasefire agreement in March and April.

In every town and village visited, grieving families described to Amnesty International how their relatives – young and old and including children – were dragged away and shot dead by soldiers – who in some cases then set the victims' bodies on fire.

Soldiers and shabihamilitias accompanying them burned down homes and properties and fired indiscriminately into residential areas, killing and injuring civilian bystanders. Those who were arrested, including the sick and elderly, were routinely tortured, sometimes to death. Many have been subjected to enforced disappearance; their fate remains unknown.

"Everywhere I went, I met distraught residents who asked why the world is standing by and doing nothing," Rovera said. "Such inaction by the international community ultimately encourages further abuses. As the situation continues to deteriorate and the civilian death toll rises daily, the international community must act to stop the spiraling violence."

The government crackdown has been targeting towns and villages seen as opposition strongholds, regardless of whether the opposition remains peaceful.

The patterns of abuses committed in these areas are not isolated, and have been widely reported elsewhere in the country, including in the attack by Syrian forces on Houla on May 25. According to the United Nations, 108 individuals, including 49 children and 34 women, were killed there.

Since the outbreak of pro-reform protests in February 2011, Amnesty International has received the names of more than 10,000 people who have been killed during the unrest, although the actual figure may be considerably higher.

The report underpins findings from other investigations into the situation in Syria including the U.N. Secretary General's report on children and armed conflict released Tuesday, which highlighted that, over the last year, government forces were responsible for "killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment" of children as young as nine years old.

In its Deadly Reprisals report, Amnesty International again calls on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to impose an arms embargo on Syria with the aim of stopping the flow of weapons to the Syrian government.

It urges the governments of the Russian Federation and China in particular to immediatelyhalt transfers to the Syrian government of all weapons, munitions, military, security, and policing equipment, training and personnel.

It also calls on the Security Council to implement an asset freeze against President Bashar al-Assad and others who may be involved in ordering or perpetrating crimes under international law.

Amnesty International has made numerous recommendations to the Syrian authorities, which, if implemented, would helpcurtail the widespread violations – amounting to crimes against humanity or war crimes – currently taking place.

But it appears the Syrian government has no intention of ending, let alone investigating, these crimes.

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.