All-Out Repression: Purging Dissent in Aleppo, Syria

Syrian opposition fighter takes aim in Aleppo on July 25, 2012 (BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)
July 31, 2012

All-Out Repression: Purging Dissent in Aleppo, Syria

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At the beginning of July, as the security forces increasingly targeted non-violent opposition activists, members of the armed opposition, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) moved into some areas of the city from nearby towns and villages. They repeatedly clashed with security forces and militia members, who continued to attack demonstrators. The situation rapidly escalated and in the last week of July major clashes erupted between government and opposition forces in several neighbourhoods, including Salah al-Din, Bustan al-Qasr, and al-Sukkari, south-west of the city centre, and Hanano, to the north-east.

The Syrian army moved into the city in force with tanks and combat helicopters, shelling residential districts with battlefield weapons, including mortars and artillery, which are imprecise and should not be used in civilian residential areas.

Residents not involved in the confrontations were inevitably caught in the crossfire and many were killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks as terrified families fled the neighbourhoods. At the end of July parts of Salah al-Din, Hanano and other districts, virtually empty of their residents, had become the theatre of fierce clashes between heavily-armed government forces and the less well-equipped FSA fighters.

Months of relentless and lethal attacks on peaceful demonstrators have failed to suppress the protest
movement. Rather, the repression has fuelled resentment and fear. Some youths who were previously arrested and tortured now say they would rather die than be arrested and tortured again. Some have joined the armed opposition. Aleppo is now suffering the same fate as the rest of the country: allout repression of legitimate protest has spiraled into a protracted armed conflict that is claiming more lives every day.

This report, based largely on Amnesty International’s field research in and around Aleppo in late May 2012, concludes that the Syrian government is responsible for systematic violations amounting to crimes against humanity in Aleppo, which it has no intention of ending, let alone investigating. The international community - despite ample evidence of the scale and gravity of the human rights and humanitarian law violations being committed in Syria - has so far failed to bring any meaningful pressure to bear on the Syrian government to end them.

The cases and patterns of abuses investigated in this report, together with the gross and widespread human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International over the past 18 months in other parts of the country, constitute a body of evidence that Syrian government forces and state-armed militias have been responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations have made numerous recommendations to the Syrian authorities over the past 18 months, as well as in previous years, which, if implemented, would have done much to curtail the practices documented in this report.

However, the Syrian government has shown no desire to try to stamp out these grave human rights violations, to investigate them or to hold those responsible to account. On the contrary, crimes under international law and other human rights violations continue to be committed, evidently with the blessing of government authorities at the highest level.

Amnesty International is therefore reiterating its call on the UN Security Council to:

* Refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes under international law.

* Ensure that an adequately resourced and strong international human rights monitoring mission with the capacity to monitor, investigate and publicly report on all human rights abuses is established, either by expanding and strengthening the UN observer mission (UNSMIS) before its mandate expires in August 2012 or by establishing another mechanism.

* Freeze the assets of President Bashar al-Assad and his close associates.

* Immediately impose an arms embargo on Syria aimed at stopping all weapons, munitions, military, security and policing equipment from reaching government forces.

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