Friday, September 13, 2013

HRW confirms executions by Assad forces

While the world’s attention is on ensuring the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can no longer use chemical weapons against its population, “we shouldn’t forget that Syrian government forces have used conventional means to slaughter civilians,” Human Rights Watch reminds us on Friday.

Syrian government and pro-government forces executed at least 248 people in the towns of al-Bayda and Baniyas on May 2 and May 3, 2013, Human Rights Watch says in a report released Friday. It was one of the deadliest instances of mass summary executions since the start of the war in Syria in March 2011, it notes.

The 68-page report, “‘No One’s Left’: Summary Executions by Syrian Forces in al-Bayda and Baniyas,” is based on interviews with 15 al-Bayda residents and five from Baniyas, including witnesses who saw or heard government and pro-government forces detain and then execute their relatives.

Human Rights Watch says:

Working with survivors and local activists, Human Rights Watch compiled a list of 167 people killed in al-Bayda and 81 in Baniyas. Based on witness accounts and video evidence, Human Rights Watch determined that the overwhelming majority were executed after military clashes ended and opposition fighters had retreated.

The actual number of fatalities is probably higher, particularly in Baniyas, given how difficult it is to access the area to account for the dead.

“While the world’s attention is on ensuring that Syria’s government can no longer use chemical weapons against its population, we shouldn’t forget that Syrian government forces have used conventional means to slaughter civilians,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Survivors told us devastating stories of how their unarmed relatives were mowed down in front of them by government and pro-government forces.”

The Syrian government acknowledged its military operations in al-Bayda and Baniyas but said its forces had killed only “terrorists.”

Ali Haidar, minister of state for national reconciliation affairs, told the Wall Street Journal that “mistakes” may have been committed in the operations and that a government committee was investigating. But he also said the government was forced to act to deny rebels a foothold in a part of Syria that many considered the heartland of the Alawites.

On the morning of May 2, Syrian government forces and pro-government militias clashed with opposition fighters in al-Bayda, a town of about 7,000 residents 10 kilometers from the coastal city of Baniyas. The area is considered a Sunnite antigovernment enclave within the largely Alawite and pro-government Tartous governorate.

Witnesses said that after the local opposition fighters retreated, at about 1 p.m., government and pro-government forces entered the town and proceeded to search the houses.

Over the next three hours, the forces entered homes, separated men from women, rounded up the men of each neighborhood in one spot and executed them by shooting them at close range.

Human Rights Watch also documented the execution of at least 23 women and 14 children, including infants.