Inside Syria
Has the Syrian opposition done nothing wrong?
As Human Rights Watch issues a report on Syria, we ask if opposition forces should be held accountable for violations.
Last Modified: 06 May 2012 11:05

An international human rights group has accused the Syrian military of war crimes that were allegedly committed while Kofi Annan, the UN representative, was trying to broker a ceasefire.

"We have previously been able to document abuses and violations by the opposition. We have strongly condemned those abuses and we have written a letter to the opposition, urging them to condemn those abuses, to make sure they don't happen [again]."

- Tom Porteous, deputy director at Human Rights Watch

In a report, titled They Burned My Heart, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says there is clear evidence that Syria breached international law during a series of attacks in late March and early April.

It says at least 95 civilians were killed during this period; of these it says 35 people, including three children were "executed".

All the alleged murders were committed in Idlib province, and are said to have been carried out by the 76th armoured division, backed by the Syrian army intelligence.

The Syrian government has not commented on the report, but Damascus accuses foreign-backed groups of waging an armed revolt which has caused hundreds of deaths.

"You cannot bring out a report and start incriminating one side over the other at a time when you have conflict. Give me peace first .... It is is a one-sided report made by testaments from groups who are either affiliated with the Syrian Free National Army or have a vendetta against the government."

- Issa Chaer, a member of the Syrian Social Club

Suggesting that there is still hope in the Annan peace plan, Ahmed Fawzi, a spokesman for Kofi Annan, said that, "The Annan plan is on track ... and a crisis that has been going on for over a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week. Sadly, time is a luxury that we don’t have, but realistically it's going to take a little more time to pull all the strings together, but rest assured that they are being pulled together."

But the continuing violence has raised yet more questions about the peace plan. And the White House has also started to openly express its doubts about the current strategy.

"If the regime's intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat .... It is clear and we will not deny that the plan has not been succeeding thus far," Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, said.

The HRW report acknowledges that Idlib, the area that it studied, was mainly in control of the opposition forces, as it states: "While both opposition fighters and government soldiers were killed during the operations, this report focuses on violations against the civilian population."

So why does the rights group not hold the opposition forces accountable for anything at all? And will Kofi Annan's peace plan help end the conflict in Syria?

Inside Syria, with presenter Teymoor Nabili, discusses with guests: Tom Porteous, the deputy program director at Human Rights Watch; Issa Chaer, a member of the Syrian Social Club, an organisation that advocates reform in Syria under the current regime; and Timor Goksel, a former senior advisor and spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

"There are no big signs of compliance. There are small signs of compliance. Some heavy weapons have been withdrawn. Some heavy weapons remain. Some violence has receded. Some violence continues. And that is not satisfactory, I don't say it is, but there are signs on the ground of movement small and slow".

Ahmed Fawzi, spokesman for Kofi Annan


Facts about the Human Rights Watch report:

  • Human Rights watch report documents latest abuses in Idlib
  • HRW's evidence includes spent ammunition and shells
  • The team visited Sarmeen, Saraqeb and Hazano - interviewing 65 victims
  • The rights group says Syrian forces looted and burned hundreds of homes
  • The report says Syrian forces in Idlib committed crimes against humanity
  • It documents violation of human rights in Idlib between March 22 and April 06
  • HRW says 95 people were killed while diplomats debated the Annan peace plan
  • According to the report, the attacks were reportedly similar to those launched in nearby villages
  • Kofi Annan's peace plan aims to end the 13-month uprising in Syria
  • The Assad family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years
  • Violence in Syria continues despite ceasefire and presence of UN monitors
  • Syrian ceasefire was scheduled to have come into effect on April 12
  • 300 UN monitors are due in Syria by the end of May 
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