Tuesday, March 20, 2012

HRW: "Serious human rights abuses" by Syrian opposition

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

In a disturbing development that indicates the increasingly gruesome direction in which the Syrian conflict is heading, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published an ‘Open Letter to the Leaders of the Syrian Opposition, in which it documents cases of what it describes as “serious human rights abuses” perpetrated by individuals opposed to the Assad regime, including:

- Summary executions of civilians, including the elderly, for sectarian reasons
- Kidnapping of civilians for ransom
- Torturing to death of non-combatant government officials and supporters
- ‘Revenge’ killings of captured Syrian military and paramilitary prisoners-of-war

Also worrying are HRW’s findings of apparently independent armed groups, such as the “Salafist” “Al-Nur battalion”, which do not answer to the Free Syria Army and have carried out multiple kidnappings of civilians. If true, the existence of such groups would add a further complication to the already-near-chaotic situation on the ground.

The opposition must immediately distance itself from such groups and such practices if it is to retain its moral high ground. As HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Watson put it, “The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups. Opposition leaders should make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap, or execute under any circumstances”. Moral considerations aside, a failure to do so will only make it that much more difficult for an already-divided and hesitant international community to unite behind their cause.

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