Syria: Rein in security forces after violent crackdown
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must rein in his security forces and prevent further unlawful killings, Amnesty International said today, as the coastal city of Banias remained under virtual lockdown and the army was reported to have detained all males over 15 in the nearby village of al-Baydah. “The human rights crisis in Syria is growing by the day, almost by the hour,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The government appears intent on trying to crush all dissent using the most repressive means – shooting peaceful protesters, carrying out mass arrests and locking down areas where people have dared to call for reform. This has to stop. Syria’s President must make it stop.”Amnesty International has received lists naming at least 200 people who have been killed since protests began in Syria on 18 March, but the true number may be much higher. Most of the dead were shot by the security forces or men in plain clothes acting alongside them using live ammunition, though the government claims that opposition “armed gangs” are the chief culprits. “The government’s claims and denials do not ring true. They are strongly contradicted by eyewitness accounts that we have received from the centres of unrest – Dera’a, Damascus, Latakia and now Banias – which speak of government snipers shooting protesters and other use of lethal force, resulting in unlawful killings,” said Malcolm Smart. “The way to determine the truth is to ensure that an independent, full and thorough investigation is urgently conducted. This is what international law requires when such grave human rights violations are reported, but the Syrian authorities have yet to order such an inquiry and live up to their international obligations.”International law also requires that those responsible for unlawful killings and other serious violations be brought to justice in fair trials.“In practice, Syria’s security forces have been allowed over many years to commit torture and unlawful killings with impunity,” said Malcolm Smart. “It is high time that they were brought to heel and made fully accountable under the law.”The coastal city of Banias has been caught in the grip of protests since 8 April and has been virtually besieged by the security forces since the evening of 9 April with security checkpoints controlling entry and exit to the city and reports of electricity and water supplies cut off. In particular, the security forces are said to have targeted predominantly Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods and villages, including al-Baydah, al-Basatin and Beit Jnad. In al-Baydah, at least 200 men and boys aged 15 and over were reportedly rounded up in a house-to-house search on 12 April and detained by armed men in plain clothes acting under Syrian army supervision. One witness told Amnesty International the armed men had their faces covered and opened fired at times during the raid. The detainees are said to have been beaten, handcuffed and made to chant pro-government slogans. It is unclear how many are still detained.The protests in Banias appear to have started out peacefully but to have turned violent at some point amid conflicting reports of what occurred. According to SANA, Syria’s official news agency, the Interior Ministry says the trouble began when members of an armed group opposed to the government fired on a bus carrying soldiers, killing nine of them. Other sources allege that some soldiers were killed by other members of the army when they refused to turn their guns on protesters. Despite consistent calls from Amnesty International to investigate mass political killings carried out in the past, Syrian authorities have never made public any details of investigations or disciplinary measures carried out.