Syria: Executions, Hostage Taking by Rebels
Human Rights Watch
11 October 2013
Armed opposition groups in Syria killed at least 190 civilians and seized over 200 as hostages during a military offensive that began in rural Latakia governorate on August 4, 2013, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. At least 67 of the victims were executed or unlawfully killed in the operation around pro-government Alawite villages.
The 105-page report, “‘You Can Still See Their Blood’: Executions, Indiscriminate Shootings, and Hostage Taking by Opposition Forces in Latakia Countryside,” presents evidence that the civilians were killed on August 4, the first day of the operation. Two opposition groups that took part in the offensive, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, are still holding the hostages, the vast majority women and children. The findings strongly suggest that the killings, hostage taking, and other abuses rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said.
“These abuses were not the actions of rogue fighters,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This operation was a coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population in these Alawite villages.”
To provide victims a measure of justice, the UN Security Council should immediately refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch has also documented war crimes and crimes against humanity by Syrian government forces.
According to opposition sources, including an opposition military officer from Latakia involved in negotiations, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, are holding over 200 civilians from the Alawite villages as hostages, the vast majority women and children. Nine residents from the Latakia countryside separately told Human Rights Watch that their relatives had been taken hostage. Three of these residents said they saw their relatives in the background of a video published on YouTube on September 7. The video showed civilians from the area held hostage by Abu Suhaib, the Libyan local leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar.
A Barouda resident told Human Rights Watch that 23 of her relatives were missing. She said she saw several of them on the YouTube video: “The oldest son of my brother… [who was executed] would have just been starting school … He has two sons, [one] who is six, and [another] who is four-and-a-half.”
Other residents told Human Rights Watch about cases in which opposition fighters executed adult male family members, and then captured women and children from the family as hostages.
Groups that hold hostages should ensure they are treated humanely and immediately released, Human Rights Watch said. Countries with influence over these groups should urge them to release the hostages.
Some of the opposition atrocities during the operation had clear sectarian motivation. For example, in Barouda, opposition fighters intentionally damaged an Alawite maqam (a site where a religious figure is buried) and appear to have intentionally damaged and dug up the grave of the religious figure buried there. On August 4, opposition fighters abducted and later executed Sheikh Bader Ghazzal, the local Alawite religious authority in Barouda who presided over the maqam. The opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra released a statement on what is believed to be their website acknowledging that its members executed the sheikh, who was a relative of Fadl Ghazzal, an adviser to former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, because the sheikh supported the Syrian government.
Recommendations for Neighboring and Other Concerned Governments
All concerned governments with influence over these armed opposition groups should press them to end deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate attacks on civilians, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, all governments, companies, and individuals should immediately stop selling or supplying weapons, ammunition, materiel, and funds to these groups, given the compelling evidence that they have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Support for these five groups should continue to be withheld until the groups stop committing these crimes and those responsible are fully and appropriately held to account. Anyone providing or selling arms and military assistance to the groups may be complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Governments should also not permit the use of their national territory for shipment of arms, ammunition, and other materiel to these groups, Human Rights Watch said. (…)
Universal jurisdiction laws also are a key backstop against impunity for heinous abuses, especially when no other viable justice options exist, Human Rights Watch said. Countries, such as Turkey should investigate people credibly linked to atrocities in Syria and avoid being a safe haven for human rights abusers.
Read the full report.