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Muzaffar Salman/AP/Press Association Images

Syrian soldiers name officials 'responsible for' torture and killings: report

Human Rights Watch is urging the ICC to investigate alleged human rights abuses in a new report that details incidents of torture and summary execution.

A NEW  REPORT from a human rights group says that Syrian soldiers have named over 70 officials and force commanders who are responsible for violent attacks on unarmed protesters.

Human Rights Watch says that those named are from both military and intelligence agencies and they are accused of ordering, authorising or condoning the killing, torture and unlawful detention of protesters demonstrating against the Syrian government.

One of the report’s authors, HRW’s associate director for emergencies Anna Neistat, said:

Defectors gave us names, ranks, and positions of those who gave the orders to shoot and kill, and each and every official named in this report, up to the very highest levels of the Syrian government, should answer for their crimes against the Syrian people.

The organisation says there is little doubt that Syrian security forces have committed widespread and systematic abuses, and it  is calling on the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court – a move supported by the UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay.

Pillay has been calling for the UN to urge the ICC to investigate hundreds of alleged crimes against humanity committed by Syrian forces since protests erupted in mid-March. The suspected human rights breaches include unlawful killings, arrests, rape, sexual abuse, and the torture of children.

‘By all means necessary’

In the report published today, the HRW says that soldiers who defected from the military say that commanders gave orders to quash the protests “by all means necessary”, which they understood as an authorisation to use lethal force. Some also said that their officers participated in the killings.

One soldier “Amjad” told HRW that his commander ordered the troops to open fire on protesters on 25 April:

The commander of our regiment, Brigadier General Ramadan Ramadan, usually stayed behind the lines. But this time he stood in front of the whole brigade. He said, “Use heavy shooting. Nobody will ask you to explain.”

Normally we are supposed to save bullets, but this time he said, “Use as many bullets as you want.” And when somebody asked what we were supposed to shoot at, he said, “At anything in front of you.” About 40 protesters were killed that day.

President Assad said in a televised interview last week that “nobody” had given direct orders to the military to use force against protesters and he challenged UN reports on alleged killings and torture.

However, Neistat said that his denials do “not absolve him of criminal responsibility”.

“As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he must have known about the abuses – if not from his subordinates, then from UN reports and the reports Human Rights Watch sent him,” she said.

Other defectors told HRW that they regularly beat and mistreated protesters who were detained and that their commanders had ordered or approved of the abuses and torture, which included severe beatings, summary executions and the denial of medical assistance for the wounded.

Some spoke of the violent repercussions of failing to participate in the violence, including one case where a 21-year-old soldier was executed by a sniper after his commander discovered he was shooting in the air, instead of shooting at protesters in Douma.

The UN said on Monday that it now estimates that over 5,000 people have been killed in the violence.

It is difficult to verify reports of deaths and attacks as the Syrian government has banned most foreign media from reporting within the country, and has seriously restricted the movement of national reporters.

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