Syria’s war … on human rights

It’s war, says Assad, and indeed the conflict in Syria is more and more beginning to resemble a full-blown armed conflict.

Yesterday’s fighting in the suburbs of Damascus seems to have been particularly bloody, with reports of “dozens” of fighters killed on both pro- and anti-government sides.

Apart from maybe arms manufacturers, not many people actively “like” wars, yet even human rights types like me will not necessarily criticise the conduct of combatants if they “play by the rules”. It almost never happens though (always never?).

Ever since the crackdown on the protests began in Syria last spring, the behaviour of various wings of the Syrian authorities has been to act with absolute contempt for basic human rights laws. Ditto humanitarian law and the laws governing armed conflict. The charge sheet is massive: indiscriminate firing at unarmed protesters; shelling civilians in their homes; arrests without warrants; beating people upon arrest; holding thousands in secret, unacknowledged detentions; systematic torture (at least 31 types of cruelty have been counted); threats to dissidents; plain, old-fashioned targeted killings, and on and on ….

One particularly terrible aspect of the tidal wave of human rights abuse unleashed by Assad’s government has been the way that doctors and other medical personnel have apparently been targeted. Amnesty has just reported on the discovery of the charred, mutilated bodies of three young medics a week after they were arrested in Aleppo. See the - gruesome - details here. This was three students (one an English literature student, something I once was). Their “crime”?  Apparently it was to offer medical help to wounded protesters in an improvised “field hospital”. (Given that many people in Syria now refuse to go to a government-run hospital for fear of being mis-treated there, the situation could hardly be more grim).

Meanwhile, today’s update from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria paints a no less grim picture. One growing concern is the human rights abuses being carried out by armed opposition groups - the torture and killing of captured soldiers and shabiha, kidnappings and killing of people known to or suspected of working with the government, etc. This morning’s attack on the pro-government Ikhbariya TV station may well be another instance of the growing “abusiveness” of some anti-Assad groups. Ikhbariya is undoubtedly a near-mouthpiece for the government line in Syria but, as Amnesty’s Ann Harrison points out, even a propagandising media organisation is still a civilian one and totally off-limits to belligerents engaged in a conflict.

So the key question is still: how can all this be stopped? There are no easy answers, but a beefed-up UN monitoring mission (lots of observers, lots of human rights experts in all parts of the country) and genuine pressure on the Assad government from Russia would be a start (Russia could also help by ensuring that no more of its arms end up in Syria).  Meanwhile, I predict, the UN Security Council will eventually have to recognise how serious this situation is and refer it to the International Criminal Court (yes, I know, predictions like this are dangerous, but still … ). There are undoubtedly torturers and killers on both “sides” of this war. They need to be stopped and brought to justice.

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At the outset, the FSA organized themselves as a sectarian coalition of death squads. The opposition have no Christian or Alawite membership.

Gregory Carlin 7 years ago

Hi Gregory - you are 100% incorrect - please see my response to your similar question here -

Kristyan BenedictStaff 7 years ago

With all due respect I have more experience than the vast majority of Amnesty employees. If Amnesty tried to interview Alawites or Armenians in Syria, the authorities would arrive. Amnesty is extremely hostile to the regime. It would be impossible for Amnesty to go to an Alawite village and set up a stall or visit homes. For your information, the armed opposition began mass killings of captured prisoners in September, 2011, and thereafter the few Alawis in their own ranks were liable to execution. By the end of 2011 lip service on the ground to a non-sectarian struggle had been abandoned. What activists say in London, Paris, or Istanbul is neither here nor there. The method of execution also changed to throat-cutting. What one has in Syria is village killing village. The Bosnian epithet is accurate enough given the nature of the conflict. The idea of Amnesty interviewing all sections of the Syrian population is simply not true, quite impossible. Amnesty's research is mono-ethnic and of limited value.

Gregory Carlin 7 years ago

Gregory - I don't recollect you being on any of our Amnesty missions to the region or being involved in the planning for them or any of the debrief sessions...yet you claim to know how these, including the most recent one to Syria, have been's not exactly easy to have a conversation with somebody who makes such statements so far removed from reality.

ps I had another lengthy meeting with a Baath party member who happens to be an Alawite and government supporter just last week - this is quite normal but you claim to know more about how we do our work than those involved at Amnesty. Gregory - you don't. That is all. (ps we don't set up stalls on research missions.....)

Kristyan BenedictStaff 7 years ago


I've worked in human rights over three decades. I have first hand experience of Amnesty in the USA and elsewhere.

If Donatella Rovera did interview Christians or Alawi in Syria, why don't you elaborate? I think I am on very safe ground in saying she didn't interview a single Alawi or Christian in Syria on her recent mission. If I am correct and I believe I am, that's like covering the Bosnian crisis and only interviewing Croats. I would mark that as a fail.

The Zainab Al-Hosni affair is therefore very far from being unique with your organization in relation to Syria.

So, what I am saying is that Ms Rovera in my opinion, and I am convinced it is the case, did not interview Alawi or Christians on her mission inside Syria, and as far as human rights research goes in a war, that's quite selective.



Gregory Carlin 7 years ago

Gregory - As I have also said to you several times (including this on another thread), you are incorrect about our researcher not interviewing people who happen to be Alawi or Christian - she did - I know this because she is a colleague of mine and unsurprisingly we talk about how the work has gone and questions raised about it (including yours when you initially asked it some time back).
So my advice - read the actual report and come back to me with anything which is factually incorrect.

Kristyan BenedictStaff 7 years ago


I have some experience over decades in relation to Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia, Turkey, and Syria.

and I have read the Amnesty report several times, I do not believe she interviewed any Alawi. Armenians or Christians etc. Can you point out the bits which you think may represent the cross-ethnic research you would ask me to accept took place?

The armed opposition were also involved in massacres in the northern province of Aleppo within the same approximate time frame and the explanation given by the opposition was that they were dumping pro-regime bodies (KIA) at the side of the road so the military could collect them.

'An activist in the area, Mohammed Saeed, said rebels regularly collect the bodies of the dead from the government side and dump them by the side of the road so troops can come and collect them later.'

I've looked at the videos, for the Saeed tidy-up claims, and it was a mass killing. The thing I am asking, and indeed many others, is why Amnesty is only reporting one side of this civil war, and that's the question. Two or three dozen people murdered in cold blood by the opposition, in the very place Amnesty is reporting upon, in the same place & time frame, and not so much as a footnote!

The opposition were also bombing churches in Syria, including Aleppo and that wasn't mentioned in the Amnesty report either. The document is a mess of puzzling blanks. So, no visa, illegal entry to country, and the city of Aleppo, is solidly pro-regime, very hard to ask questions. So no questions there, and if questions were asked elsewhere it was the same kind of thing.

Syrians live in sectarian & political divisions. It is not possible to go to an Alawi village and ask about the bad Mr. Assad.

The report is a stinker in my opinion.


Gregory Carlin 7 years ago


I am a 100 percent incorrect?

Syria is a country with a modern history of full blown genocide and Syria is now in the midst of a civil war.

Can you show me a video clip in the vast mountain of videos produced by the opposition of Alawi or Christians ( even a single one) standing shoulder to shoulder with their Sunni comrades during, before or after battle?

I would venture not a single Armenian has fought for the opposition, the Alawi component would fit into a small car, and the Christians have contributed a few hybrid candidates.

Syria was always Bosnia waiting to happen, a typical post-Ottoman blood-fest. The Assad regime's gift to Syria was the preservation or survival of the minorities.

The complaint which is all over the internet is that Amnesty are acting as a PR agent for a coalition of sectarian militia, the truth of those allegations is supported by the devoutly one sided nature of the Amnesty reports and statements.

And also the fact Amnesty is not prepared to lend its voice to calls by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for an arms embargo in relation to the opposition forces which are involved in war crimes.

'The U.N. official also said that both the government and the rebels are receiving more and more weapons, which is fueling violence in a 16-month conflict against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. She said both sides appear to have committed war crimes.'

Both sides! In a contest between two killers, it is never a solution to offer the less prolific of the two more weapons to bring the stats up to par.

I think the opposition were the tour guide for Amnesty's sojourn to Syria and the opposition got the press kit they were looking for. Which is also the reason Amnesty ignored the massacres by the opposition forces in the very same area, in the same approximate time frame.

Amnesty should call for a weapons embargo on both sides.

Instead of picking a side.


Gregory Carlin 7 years ago

Gregory - as I said on the other blog post where you raise the same points "How the Syrian Government could prove us wrong" - note these lines and the question at the end....

"But even if one were to take the Syrian governments line as 100% accurate it is odd that they still fail to co-operate fully with the UN observer mission who could verify government accounts. One would expect them to be breaking down the doors of the UN, demanding more observers who could help deter attacks from "terrorists" and verify government accounts for a Western public duped by "mainstream media"..

They continue to fail in providing full co-operation and unimpeded access to the independent international Commission of Inquiry to investigate ALL alleged crimes under international law and violations and abuses of international human rights law.

Also, they have not invited the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, as well as other relevant UN Special Procedure mandate holders so they can also carry out independent investigations and you would think, verify the governments accounts.

So If the Syrian authorities really wanted to show the world that their version of events was correct surely they would agree to these obvious recommendations."

So....Can you (Gregory) answer why the Syrian authorities do not want the UN to reveal the truth?

Kristyan BenedictStaff 7 years ago

The armed opposition is soldier for soldier, out-killing the regime's military and the UN already knows it. The Syrian govt. doesn't want that, or anything else verified, it is not a game. The Alawi militia are motivated to a redoubt canton and doomsday struggle. The basis of the Syria state is fundamentally a lie. The issue is not whether the Syrian version of events is correct, I am entirely sure it is not. For e.g. the Assad regime is also ideologically incapable of accepting the premise of sectarian civil war. The UN no longer has the luxury of collegiate falsehood. It is a civil war with manifestly sectarian aspects. The armed opposition has shown no tolerance of any kind to Christians or Alawi in areas under insurgent control.

Gregory Carlin 7 years ago

One thing I can't understand, is why Amnesty thought for a minute this revolution would be less obviously sectarian than the one the Muslim Brotherhood started thirty years ago.

Amnesty jumped into campaigning blind, and then produced a report akin to Tony Blair's WMD efforts, the same type of research.

Also if one religion should have carefully monitored arms shipments, why not the same deal for Kurds, Alawites and Christians?

Why assume the repressive regime will at the end of the day protect anybody? Why can't the other religions have a militia each importing sanctioned arms?

Anyway, if Amnesty is not endorsing a blanket arms embargo, your researchers should not be going to Syria. It is highly unethical.

Gregory Carlin 7 years ago

I was 100 percent wrong? It is spreading, thoroughly sectarian and we could have another civil war in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Kuwait urged immediate action after a string of kidnappings of Sunni Muslims by a powerful Shia clan.

Gregory Carlin 7 years ago