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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' 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.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs