News / Middle East

UN Report Charges Shabiha in Syria Killings

Syria's shabiha militia are suspected of recent summary executions in Daraya on August 25 (AP)Syria's shabiha militia are suspected of recent summary executions in Daraya on August 25 (AP)
x
Syria's shabiha militia are suspected of recent summary executions in Daraya on August 25 (AP)
Syria's shabiha militia are suspected of recent summary executions in Daraya on August 25 (AP)
David Arnold
A United Nations report to be issued this week accuses President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government of using its military and an allied militia, the shabiha, to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity to help the regime stay in power.

The document, entitled the Syria report, says the Syrian opposition also has committed rights violations during the uprising that started a year and a half ago, but concludes the government and its allies have been the main perpetrators.

The report is to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. The Human Rights Council opened a three-week meeting in Geneva on Monday.

A panel of U.N.-appointed independent commissioners listened to more than 1,000 accounts of murder, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and torture during its investigation of human rights violations and war crimes in Syria over the past 18 months.
“The shabiha were identified as perpetrators of many of the crimes …”

The panel’s report places part of the blame for the violations on units of the loosely organized Free Syrian Army rebels.  But most of panel’s accusations of criminal acts are leveled at President Assad’s military and the much feared shabiha militia  – pro-government enforcers closely tied to the Assad regime and its supporters in the Alawite community.

“The commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, breaches of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations have been committed in the Syrian Arab Republic,” the report says.

“The shabiha were identified as perpetrators of many of the crimes” said the report, which includes a confidential list of suspected individuals and units.
  
Karen Koning AbuZayd, one of the commissioners investigating evidence in the Syria violence, described the panel’s investigation and the prominence of testimony against the shabiha.

”As some of the defectors said, they [the shabiha] go in to clean up and get rid of many of the people who they can identify to be murdered,” she said. 

This is the commission’s third report. AbuZayd said a fourth is likely.

Assad leans more on Alawi shabiha

For more than a year, protest organizers and citizen journalists have reported a large number of non-uniformed combatants known as shabiha, who accompany regular Syrian army units attacking communities sympathetic to the revolution or act as eager enforcers at military and police checkpoints.
We see that the shabiha are cooperating directly with regime forces. They ride with the tanks; they use them in combat; they use them as light infantry.

According to August 1 testimony by Martin Indyk, foreign policy director for the Brookings Institution, there were at the time several thousand shabiha.

“With their backs to the wall, the Alawite regime considers its choice as binary – either kill or be killed,” Indyk told the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. 

In addition to the government’s estimated 300,000-member military, Indyk cited “a paramilitary force – the feared ‘shabiha’ [ghosts] – of several more thousand…”

Recent reports indicate that as Sunni Muslims defected from the Syrian military, the Assad regime is increasingly filling the vacancies with Alawites,  many who have previously served in the nation’s conscript army.

Jeffrey White, a military analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C., recently returned from meeting with military defectors and Free Syrian Army rebel commanders.

“One of the things we heard when we were out in Turkey,” said White, “is that, in fact, the government had mobilized retired military officers to train the shabiha, that they have a training camp and headquarters, that there is some sort of organizational structure for them…”

Houla massacre

The U.N. panel singled out the Assad regime and its Alawite supporters in a massacre of more than 100 people last May in the small town of Taldou in al-Houla.  

Contemporary accounts of the incident described Taldou as a village of Sunnis surrounded by several villages of Alawites who are believed to have helped the government to invade the village in search of rebels. Until recent reports of deaths in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, the Houla massacre captured the attention of the world.

The panel found that most of the fatalities were the result of summary executions by armed civilians accompanying military troops.  According to the U.N. report, for example, 60 members of one family, the Abdulrazzaks, were killed in broad daylight on May 25.

The commission examined but dismissed the regime’s own investigation and claim that anti-government forces were to blame.
The groups referred to as shabiha by the Arab satellite news channels are a different breed altogether: violent ex-offenders and outlaws who enjoy a complex relationship with the mukhabbarat...

The U.N. inquiry is based on satellite imagery of the village and telephone conversations with six witnesses in the village.  The commissioners said the deaths of members of two extended families were politically motivated.

Ghosts in a shifting culture of violence

However, much of the testimony about shabiha violence involves perpetrators without names. And in Syria’s current lawlessness, the acts of local armed defense councils, shabiha and common criminals may look alike, according to commission member AbuZayd.

The image of the shabiha has been blurred in international media as well.

“The groups referred to as shabiha by the Arab satellite news channels are a different breed altogether: violent ex-offenders and outlaws who enjoy a complex relationship with the mukhabbarat [secret police] and police officers, who run them and share in the profits of their criminal enterprise,” writes Damascus journalist Yassin al-Haj Salih.  

Even so, the threat of the shabiha remains strong. Shortly after he published an analysis of the shabiha in a Heinrich Boll Foundation publication, Salih felt it necessary to go into hiding and declined further interviews on the subject.

Could the shabiha be tried in the Hague?

AbuZayd said there is concern that while the shabiha’s criminal activities are well-documented, more evidence needs to be developed on the identities of the shabiha members who commit them.

White said, “I think there’s more structure, more organization than we know.  We see that the shabiha are cooperating directly with regime forces. They ride with the tanks; they use them in combat; they use them as light infantry. The regular army and the shabiha are working together.

“It should not be an overwhelming obstacle to bring some of these guys to trial,” said White. “For one thing, the opposition knows who these guys are by name. The names of shabiha people and commanders, the opposition is going to know that.”

In addition to testimony from shabiha victims, defectors who managed units of shabiha confirmed the government role to the U.N. commissioners. “That’s why we are able to say we think what is going on is a product of state policy. Someone is controlling this,” AbuZayd said.

“With shabiha, it’s hard to tell, but people describe them pretty consistently, I would say, and our information comes from victims who say, ‘The shabiha did this to us.’”

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs