Syria: findings of FSA investigation into Berri clan killings must be handed to UN inquiry

‘Killing captives is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime’ - Philip Luther

The investigation announced by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) into the alleged unlawful killings of 14 members of the al-Berri clan must be carried out in an “impartial, independent and comprehensive” manner and its results should be referred to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Amnesty International said today.

Fahad al-Masri, the FSA’s Head of Central Media, condemned the killings in a televised interview on Wednesday and said the FSA had opened an investigation into the incident and those responsible would be held to account.

Members of the Sunni pro-government clan were shown in a social media video, allegedly filmed by the al-Tawhid Brigade of the FSA, being shot dead after being ordered out of a clan “hospitality” building by the fighters in Bab al-Nairab neighbourhood in the city of Aleppo. The head of the clan, Ali Zein al-‘Abdeen Berri (known as Zayno Berri), was reportedly killed in the shootings.

According to local human rights activists, 14 members of the clan were summarily killed, some of them by hanging, although this was not shown in the video. Heavy fighting had earlier taken place between the two sides.

Amnesty has also examined a number of recent social media videos showing the bodies of 15 men who appear to have been shot dead while handcuffed, while at least three of them were also blindfolded. Most of these corpses were found near the Air Force Intelligence branch in al-Zahraa’ Society neighbourhood in Aleppo. The manner in which these bodies were found suggests that they may have been captured and later killed. The identities of the victims and perpetrators are yet to be established, but the fact that they were found in government-controlled areas suggests that they may have been killed by government forces.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“Killing captives is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.

“The FSA leadership have a duty to end such violations immediately.

“Amnesty International notes the FSA’s announcement of an investigation into the incident. This must be carried out in an impartial, independent and comprehensive manner and the results passed on to the UN Commission of Inquiry.”

“It has been evident for months that crimes under international law are being committed on a mass scale. Referring the situation in Syria to the ICC will make clear to all sides that those who order or carry out war crimes and crimes against humanity will be brought to justice.

“We condemn such unlawful killings and again call on the leadership of all sides in Syria to insist they will not tolerate such abuses being committed by anyone under their command.”

The UN Commission of Inquiry is responsible for monitoring, documenting and reporting such incidents to the Human Rights Council. This would be instrumental for possible prosecution when and if the situation in Syria is referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As early as April 2011, Amnesty concluded that crimes against humanity were being committed amid the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters that began in March last year.

The situation over the course of more than 16 months of protest and unrest has evolved into non-international armed conflict. While the overwhelming majority of crimes continue to be committed by the Syrian security forces, serious abuses including war crimes by some members of armed opposition groups, including the FSA, are also on the rise, particularly in the province of Aleppo.

Members of armed opposition groups have been responsible for summary executions of some captured members of the security forces and shabiha militias and other unlawful killings; abductions of civilians; torture and other ill-treatment; use of Children's rights in hostilities; and the reckless use and storage of arms. In situations of armed conflict, all parties, including armed opposition groups, are legally bound by the rules of international humanitarian law. Serious violations of international humanitarian law are war crimes.

Amnesty has repeatedly called on the UN Security Council to refer the deteriorating security situation to the ICC and made clear that the crimes are subject to universal jurisdiction.

Philip Luther added:

“Russia must stop blocking decisive action by the UN Security Council to end the suffering in Syria. Most importantly, it should support the transfer of the situation in Syria to the ICC.”

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