Print options

August 17, 2011

UN Investigators Detail Syria Rights Violations

by Lisa Schlein

A U.N. fact-finding mission on Syria says widespread and systematic human rights violations against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity.  The investigators recommend the U.N. Security Council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

The mission's 22-page report presents a detailed and grim litany of human rights violations in Syria during the government's crackdown on dissent.  It presents evidence supporting what the investigators see as a pattern of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians.  

Spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said these findings are extremely serious and could amount to crimes against humanity, which after genocide, constitute the most serious international human rights violations.

"The report lists…lots of things for example, summary executions," noted Colville.  "They mention a list of 353 named victims of summary executions.  There are lots of reports of snipers systematically shooting into civilian demonstrators, including children, many reports of torture.  The mission had a medical forensic physician on the team who examined victims of torture."  

The report also cites cases of people being pulled from their hospital beds and shot.  It describes people being killed in mosques.  It says Syrian forces used heavy weapons in civilian areas.  

The report covers the period from mid-March, when protests began against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, to mid-July.  The report says at least 1,900 people were killed during that period.  The Syrian government does not dispute this figure, but says at least 250 members of its security forces were among the victims.

The investigative team of 13 human rights experts collected its information over a three-month period. Syria did not allow the team to enter the country, so most of the information was acquired from witnesses in neighboring countries.

Nevertheless, U.N. spokesman Colville says the team was able to interview defectors from the Syrian armed forces, the security services and other government agencies, both inside Syria and in neighboring countries.

"They basically described how they were given orders to shoot to kill and also described how soldiers or other security agents who refused to shoot civilians were themselves shot," said Colville.  "So, that is very strong and interesting evidence and that is an important factor in the crimes against humanity because that involves a kind of command responsibility."  

The human rights experts say they have compiled a confidential list of 50 alleged perpetrators at various levels of the Syrian government who could face prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

Colville says the Syrian government disputes much of the report.  Syrian authorities reportedly told the U.N. experts they had instituted some political reforms and were investigating alleged abuses.