Syrian government forces continue to kill protesters and civilians caught in the crossfire, committing “gross violations” as the bloodied country grows increasingly militarized, pitting soldiers and security officers loyal to President Bashar Assad against armed rebels, according to a new report from a United Nations investigative commission.
Rampant human-rights abuses have continued in recent months, including government shelling of neighborhoods suspected of harboring rebels and executing the entire families of anti-government activists, the U.N. study found. Boys as young as 10 said they had been tortured to admit others in their families were rebels or backed them. More than 200 deaths were confirmed by the investigative commission between March and the middle of May, based on more than 200 interviews with victims and witnesses.
Most of the serious abuses laid out in the U.N. report were carried out by the Syrian government, but there were also reports that rebels had unlawfully executed Syrian soldiers and suspected informers, tortured captured government forces or supporters and engaged in kidnappings. The findings echo an earlier Human Rights Watch report that documented abuses committed by some in the decentralized opposition.
The continued violence has disappointed Syrians and outsiders who had hoped that an April peace plan brokered by U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan would put a halt to the violence. Instead, the death toll has continued to rise even as U.N. observers have entered the country, with attacks sometimes happening right in front of the blue-helmeted monitors.
Opposition activists claimed that at least 33 people were killed Thursday by government forces, including a mother and five children in Hama. Syrian state media reported armed terrorists had attacked and killed at least 11 people, including five police officers and four workers seeking to stop an illegal well drilling project. At least 10,000 people are believed to have been killed over the course of the conflict.
The uprising against President Assad and the ensuing crackdown has raged for more than a year, the most intractable and bloody of the so-called Arab Spring revolts. The Syrian government contends it is under assault from terrorists with foreign assistance, a charge that opponents say is untrue.
As the carnage continues, some fear the possibility of an outright civil war. Government forces, once cracking down on mainly peaceful street protests, "now face armed and well-organized fighters — bolstered by defectors who joined them," the U.N. report said.
In its annual report on human rights released Thursday, Amnesty International castigated Russia for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this year calling on Assad to step down. It argued that the deadlock was only the latest example of how the powerful body had failed to safeguard peace and security.
"International action has been largely inadequate," the Amnesty International report stated.
— Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: This image culled from amateur video released by a Syrian opposition network and accessed Wednesday purports to show a building on fire from shelling in Homs province. Credit: Associated Press / Shaam News Network