Annual Report: Syria 2013

May 29, 2013

Annual Report: Syria 2013

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In September, the UN Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry established in 2011. The Commission reported in February and August that government forces had committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious human rights abuses, while war crimes committed by armed opposition forces did not reach the “gravity, frequency and scale” of those committed by government forces. The authorities continued to refuse both the Human Rights Council and the Commission entry to the country. They also restricted entry by international media and independent human rights organizations, although these gained access to various areas, including some controlled by armed opposition forces.

The government announced general amnesties in January and October, but it was unclear how many of those arbitrarily detained were released.

In November, various opposition groups united to form the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which was then increasingly recognized internationally as the sole, legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The USA and the Arab League continued to impose sanctions on Syria, while repeatedly calling for President al-Assad to relinquish power. The EU expanded its targeted sanctions against Syrian officials.

Crimes under international law

Government forces and their associated militias committed war crimes while rampaging through cities, towns and villages perceived to be opposition strongholds in areas including Homs, Idlib, Hama, Damascus and Aleppo governorates. They carried out indiscriminate attacks that killed or injured thousands of civilians. Many of the deaths resulted from the government's improper use of imprecise battlefield weapons in densely populated civilian areas. In addition to dropping free-fall, unguided bombs from aircraft, security forces fired mortars, artillery, incendiary weapons and rockets in residential areas. They also used internationally banned weapons, including anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, and systematically looted, destroyed and burned property and sometimes the bodies of those they killed.

  • Hassan and Rayan al-Bajri, aged 11 and eight, their mother Salha and father Naasan, were killed along with two of their neighbours when their home in Ma'arat al-No'man was hit by a mortar shell fired by government forces in July.
  • Twenty-two civilians were killed and many more injured when government air strikes hit the market in Kafr Anbel village on 28 August. Among the victims were Fathiya Fares Ali al-Sheikh, a mother of nine, and teenagers Mohamed and Jumaa al-Sweid.

Abuses by armed opposition groups

Armed groups fighting against the government, including some linked to the FSA, committed serious violations of international humanitarian law amounting to war crimes. The victims were mostly known or suspected members of government forces and militiamen whom they tortured or summarily killed after capture or after “trials” before unfair makeshift courts. They also targeted journalists working for pro-government media, and families of suspected members of government militias. Armed groups threatened and abducted civilians, sometimes demanding ransoms for their release and, in some cases, held individuals as hostages, including captured soldiers and Lebanese and Iranian nationals. They carried out suicide and other bomb attacks, and at times fired imprecise weapons such as artillery and mortars in densely populated neighbourhoods, used inherently indiscriminate weapons such as anti-personnel landmines, and prepared or stored munitions and explosives in residential buildings, endangering civilian occupants. Children were used militarily, mostly in support, not combat, roles. By the end of the year, armed opposition groups were reported to be increasingly threatening and attacking minority communities perceived to be pro-government.