Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS)

A CRISIS THAT DEMANDS ACTION BY THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

PUBLIC STATEMENT

28 April 2011

THE SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC: A CRISIS THAT DEMANDS ACTION BY
THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

Amnesty International has submitted the following statement
to the sixteenth special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the human
rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic.

        For six weeks
the Syrian government has been violently repressing pro-democracy protests that
have been taking place throughout the country. This follows a long history of
repression which has seen the arbitrary arrest, detention and imprisonment of
peaceful government critics and advocates of reform, including for Kurdish
minority rights, torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners on
a wide-spread and systematic scale, extrajudicial executions and enforced
disappearances. All these human rights violations are being committed with
impunity.

        Amnesty
International has received to date the names of more than 450 people reported
to have been killed by Syrian government forces since the protests began in
mid-March. Hundreds have been injured and hundreds more detained; many are held
in incommunicado detention at undisclosed locations and are at high risk of
torture and other ill-treatment. Amnesty International has received harrowing
first-hand testimony of torture and other ill-treatment that has been meted out
on individuals, including children, detained during these weeks – including
severe beatings with sticks, rifle-butts and cables, electrocution and sexual
assault.

        Many of those
killed and injured are reported by eye-witnesses and others to have been shot
by security forces, including the army and paramilitaries, using live
ammunition firing into crowds of protesters and mourners attending funerals of
people previously killed by government forces. Snipers have also shot and
killed people in the streets and in their homes and have targeted medical
workers and other people trying to help the wounded. 

        The most
intense repression to date occurred on 22-24 April. More than 120 people were
killed during “Great Friday” protests called for 22 April; some as a result of
army shelling of residential areas in the southern city of Dera’a using tanks.
This use of artillery against civilian residential areas indicates that the
Syrian government may be determined to quell the popular protests using any
means irrespective of their legality and compliance with international human
rights law.

        Up to a third
of the killings have occurred in Dera’a, where the first fatalities occurred on
18 March 2011. Security forces opened fire on local people who were protesting
against the arrest and detention of youths alleged to have written political
graffiti on walls. Four protestors were killed and at least two more deaths
occurred in the following two days. At least seven other people were killed
when the army and plain-clothed security agents subsequently raided the ‘Omari
mosque where scores of people were staging a sit-in protest. Those killed
included a medical doctor and two women providing water to the protestors.

        The security
forces have also killed protestors in more than a dozen other cities and towns,
including Izra’, as-Sanamayn, Latakia, Banias, Homs, Hama and Damascus.

        The Syrian
government and the Syrian state news agency SANA have attributed many of the
killings to “terrorist” and “fundamentalist” armed gangs who, they say, have
been attacking the security forces and protesters. However, in the overwhelming
majority of cases when casualties have occurred there has been clear evidence
that killings were committed by the government’s own security forces who were
present and were seen to be shooting at demonstrators and participants in
funeral processions. In some cases, unidentified gunmen have been seen shooting
in and around the streets of urban areas such as Latakia, Dera’a and Banias,
but their actions and movement suggest that they are operating in conjunction
with government security forces. The Syrian government says that at least 26
members of the security forces have been killed, but Amnesty International has
not been able to independently verify this information or ascertain the
circumstances of such deaths, if they have occurred. Nor is Amnesty
International currently able to verify reports that some soldiers have been
summarily executed on the orders of their commanders for refusing to open fire
on protesters.

        Amnesty International has informed the
Syrian authorities of its wish to urgently visit the country in order to
investigate alleged human rights violations at first hand but, to date, has
received no response. The Syrian authorities maintain tight curbs on access to
information and freedom of expression with the result that independent
investigation and verification of human rights violations is made extremely
difficult.

        The lack of
independent access to Syria to investigate the killings, including of members
of the security forces, underlines the need for the United Nations to take
action. On 31 March 2011, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA,
President Bashar al-Assad directed the establishment of a committee to “launch
immediate investigations into all the incidents which claimed the lives of a
number of civilians and military personnel in Dera’a and Latakia”. However,
given the repeated failures over the years of the Syrian authorities to conduct
independent and thorough investigations into numerous human rights violations,
the limited scope of the announced investigation and the fact that the Syrian
authorities have been blaming “armed gangs” for the violence, Amnesty
International considers it highly unlikely that the announced investigation or
similar investigations established by the Syrian authorities will be
sufficiently independent, objective, thorough and robust to meet international
standards. 

        The large
number of detentions accompanying the violent repression, most of which appear
to be arbitrary in nature, also contrasts with statements of the Syrian
authorities. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pledged for a second time on 15
April to release all protest-related detainees, except those accused of
committing crimes “against the nation and the citizens”, but hundreds of
protestors are believed still to be held and to be at risk of torture or other
ill-treatment. Indeed, new reports of torture and other ill-treatment are now
being received – methods used reportedly include beatings with sticks and
cables, electric shocks and sexual abuse.

Amnesty International urges the Human Rights Council to:

Demand that the Syrian authorities:

Cease all repression of peaceful protesters, including
unlawful killings and other excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and
detentions, torture and other ill-treatment;

Take steps to ensure full accountability for the human
rights violations that have been committed in recent weeks and are ongoing,
including by undertaking independent and impartial investigations and by
bringing to justice those responsible for unlawful killings, torture and other
human rights violations in fair trials and without recourse to the death
penalty;

Invite visits by and facilitate prompt access to relevant UN
Special Procedures in order to carry out or assist with direct investigation of
the hundreds of killings of protestors and other serious human rights
violations that have occurred, the excessive use of force, reports of
extra-judicial executions of members of the security forces and others,
wide-spread arbitrary detention, torture, strict controls on freedom of
expression and movement;

Request an urgent visit by representatives of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights;

Resolve to keep the human rights situation in Syria under
constant review and to establish mechanisms to support this, including by
reporting regularly to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly;

Transmit the report of its sixteenth special session on the
human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic to the General Assembly
prior to the elections for the Human Rights Council scheduled for 20 May 2011.

Amnesty International notes that there are situations of
human rights violations of comparable severity in Bahrain and Yemen, and the
organisation urges the Human Rights Council to convene in special session
without delay to address those situations.