July 9, 2011 (AP)
July 9, 2011 (AP)
Syrian commanders told security forces they were fighting terrorists and ordered them to open fire on anti-regime demonstrations even after they found unarmed protesters instead, Human Rights Watch said Saturday in a report citing defectors from President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The New York-based group quoted some of the defectors as saying that they feared they could have been shot themselves if they refused to obey orders. One reported seeing a military officer shoot dead two soldiers in the southern city of Daraa for that reason.
The claims were made in a report that was based on interviews with eight soldiers and four members of the security agencies who have described taking part in the shooting and wounding of dozens of protesters, as well as in the arbitrary detentions of hundreds.
Assad’s regime has used a mix of fierce violence and tentative promises of reform to try subdue a 16-week uprising against the authoritarian regime. Activists say 1,600 civilians and 350 security forces have been killed in four months of violence.
HRW said those interviewed participated in the government crackdown in Daraa, where the uprising was sparked, as well as the southern village of Izraa, the coastal town of Banias, the central city of Homs, the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour, the northern province of Aleppo and the capital of Damascus. It said the defectors were interviewed in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
The defectors all said their superiors had told them that they were fighting infiltrators, ultraconservative Muslims known as salafists and terrorists, the group said. The defectors said they “were surprised to encounter unarmed protesters” instead, but still were ordered to fire at them in a number of instances.
“The testimony of these defectors provides further evidence that the killing of protesters was no accident but a result of a deliberate policy by senior figures in Syria to use deadly force to disperse protesters,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.
“Syrian soldiers and officials should know that they too have not just a right but a duty to refuse such unlawful orders, and that those who deliberately kill or injure peaceful protesters will be subject to prosecution,” Whitson said.
The group called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syrian authorities’ systematic violations of human rights, adopt targeted sanctions against officials responsible for the killing and torture of protesters and impose an embargo on all arms and security equipment to Syria.
Four European countries have introduced a draft resolution in the Security Council that would condemn Syria’s crackdown on protesters, but Russia and China have indicated they would veto it.
Also Saturday, Syria’s state-run media continued its criticism of the visit by U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford to the central city of Hama. The main headline of state-run daily Al-Thawra read: “Ford in Hama and Syrians are angry.”
Ford’s visit drew swift condemnation from the Syrian government, which said the unauthorized trip was proof that Washington was inciting violence in the Arab nation.
“Thank you Mr. Ford. What was a suspicion among millions of Syrians has become today a certainty,” that paper said.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the charge “absolute rubbish.”
The French ambassador to Damascus Eric Chevallier also visited Hama but the Syrian government did not comment on it.
Mass demonstrations erupted on Friday in cities and towns nationwide, triggering a crackdown that killed at least 13 people, activists said. But Hama’s protest was by far the largest, galvanizing residents in a city that has drawn the biggest crowds since the revolt began nearly four months ago.
Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso said security forces have rounded up some 200 people in different parts of Syria since Friday.
In recent days, Hama residents have largely sealed off their city, setting up makeshift checkpoints with burning tires and concrete blocks to prevent security forces from storming into the city.
A Hama resident said Saturday the city was quiet and under the control of residents while troops were on the outskirts.
Picture credit: defenceweb.co.za