News / Middle East

Rights Group Details Syrian Massacre

Human Rights Watch says these Syrians were killed execution-style in the village of al-Bayda May 3, 2013. Amateur video via AP.
Human Rights Watch says these Syrians were killed execution-style in the village of al-Bayda May 3, 2013. Amateur video via AP.
Atrocities and massacres have been regular occurrences in Syria’s two-and-half year civil war, but Human Rights Watch provided details Friday about one of the worst massacres carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
 
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report documents in exacting detail the summary executions of 248 people by Syrian government forces and allied irregular units in the mainly Sunni Muslim towns of al-Bayda and Baniyas on May 2 and 3 this year. The dead included women and children, some of them infants.
 
Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Shortly after the summary executions took place, the Syrian government acknowledged that its forces had been active in the towns—Sunni enclaves in a region overwhelmingly populated by pro-Assad Alawite Muslims—but insisted they had been battling “terrorists.”
 
Syrian government officials denied that its forces had carried out a massacre of unarmed civilians, but Ali Haidar, minister of state for national reconciliation affairs, later told the Wall Street Journal that “mistakes” may have been made and that a government committee was investigating.
 
Based on eyewitness testimony of survivors who saw or heard government and pro-government forces detain and then execute their relatives, the 68-page HRW report suggests the majority of those killed, generally by three bullets to the head, were non-combatants executed several hours after firefights between the army and rebels had ended.
 
According to the survivors, government forces started to ransack and loot houses early in the afternoon, and then rounded up the men, separating them from the women and children. The men were either shot on the spot or moved to the main square and shot there. The bodies were later moved to a mobile phone store where they were partially burned, the HRW report said.
 
Surviving relatives describe killings
 
Among the dead were the four grown sons of 70-year-old Mustafa Suweid. Samira, the wife of one of the sons, said the four were forced into a next-door apartment along with a neighbor.
 
“Suddenly we heard gunshots. I started screaming to my father-in-law,” Samira told the HRW investigators. “I ran to the window and saw around 20 soldiers leave the apartment.” 
 
“I first saw my husband’s body by the door,” Samira continued. “The remaining three were in a room on top of each other. Each of the men had three bullets in him. Ahmad was not yet dead. But we were unable to get him to a hospital. He died two hours later. We moved the bodies into one room and covered them. The blood slowly seeped onto the carpet.”
 
Nearby, soldiers entered the home of the Bayasi family, the HRW report said. According to three local residents, all the family members—nine men, three women, and 14 children—were executed with the exception of a three-year old girl who they said was wounded but survived. 
 
A local resident, Majed, who was among the first to discover the corpses also shared his grisly story with HRW.

“I was busy helping the surviving residents leave the town when the fiancé of one of the Bayasi women asked me to go with him to check on her," he said. "We saw no one in the first room. As we entered further into the house, we got to a room where we found so many corpses. Mothers and children piled on top of each other. One mother was still covering her son. I thought he may have survived, but as I turned her over, I saw that he had been also shot. My friend’s fiancé was also killed. We closed the windows of the house because we did not want any wild animals to come in.”
 
The HRW report also detailed a separate incident in which the wife of a man called Muhammad Shaker said she found her husband with bullet wounds to his head and shoulder.
 
“Half of his head…was all smashed up. His insides were all out,” she told HRW. “This [the injuries to his abdomen] was done with cleavers.”
 
Cell phone video
 
The Human Rights Watch report includes cell phone video recordings made by survivors to support much of the testimony gathered by HRW.  Some images of the dead – although only of dead men – also were shown the following days on Syrian state television. The dead men were said to be “terrorists.”
 
HRW investigators also spoke to survivors who discovered the bodies in the cell phone store in al-Bayda.
 
This citizen journalist image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village.This citizen journalist image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village.
x
This citizen journalist image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village.
This citizen journalist image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian army soldiers standing in front of dead bodies at Bayda village.
“What we saw inside it [the store] I cannot describe,” said Mohammad, an opposition activist. “The room was four meters by four meters. There were more than 60 dead bodies there. They were all next to each other and all burnt. The smoke was still coming out of them.”
 
According to HRW, similar summary executions took place in Baniyas, 10 kilometers from al-Bayda, where local residents named 30 men, 22 women, and 29 children who had been executed.
 
Conventional weapons used
 
“While the world’s attention is on ensuring that Syria’s government can no longer use chemical weapons against its population, we shouldn’t forget that Syrian government forces have used conventional means to slaughter civilians,” says Joe Stork, HRW’s acting Middle East director.
 
Why al-Bayda and Baniyas were earmarked for such treatment isn’t clear, but some opposition activists say the executions were meant to encourage Sunni Muslims to leave the region.
 
Both sides in Syria’s increasingly sectarian conflict, though, have committed atrocities.

Earlier this week, the United Nations commission charged with investigating human rights violations in Syria released an updated version of its findings listing a number of violations committed by both the rebels and Assad government forces.
 
“Government and pro-government forces have continued to conduct widespread attacks on the civilian population, committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance,” the commission said. "They have laid siege to neighborhoods and subjected them to indiscriminate shelling."
 
But the commission also noted that Syrian rebels “have committed war crimes, including murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage taking.”
 
The commission said the Syrian government was responsible for eight massacres since the beginning of the year, while the rebels were responsible for one.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs