Human rights abuses by Syria’s armed opposition

Human Rights Watch addresses an “Open Letter to the Leaders of the Syrian Opposition”: We are writing to express our concern about increasing evidence, as described below, of kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members and strongly urge you to work to ensure that all opposition members refrain from engaging in these unlawful practices.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented and condemned widespread violations by Syrian government security forces and officials, including disappearances, use of torture and forced televised confessions, arbitrary detentions, indiscriminate shelling of neighborhoods, and deaths in custody under torture. Now, in the face of evidence of human rights abuses by armed opposition members, Human Rights Watch calls on the leadership of leading opposition groups including the Syrian National Council (SNC) and its Military Bureau to condemn such practices by the armed opposition and to work to prevent such unlawful practices.

While the protest movement in Syria was overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011, since then Human Rights Watch has documented apparent crimes and other abuses committed by armed opposition elements. These crimes and abuses include the kidnapping and detention of security force members, individuals identified as members of government-supported militias (referred to locally as shabeeha), and individuals identified as government allies or supporters. They also include the use of torture and the execution of security force members and civilians. Some of the attacks targeting Shias and Alawites appear to be motivated by sectarianism.

The New York Times reports: Armed Syrian defectors took their uprising into the heart of a heavily guarded and wealthy district of Damascus on Monday, clashing with security forces in what activists and residents called the most intense fighting in such a strategic area since the protests against President Bashar al-Assad began a year ago.

The flaring of violence in the Syrian capital followed a weekend in which bombers struck at government targets in both Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s largest cities, raising concerns that the scope of the armed uprising was expanding into places that had been largely spared from violence.

The clashes in Damascus also coincided with the arrival of a monitoring team sent by Kofi Annan, the special representative on Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League. Mr. Annan is trying to advance his effort to start a dialogue between the antagonists in the Syria conflict and open the way for humanitarian aid.

There were also signs that Russia, Mr. Assad’s most important foreign supporter, was exerting some pressure on him to allow a daily pause in the fighting and to permit outside aid to victims of the conflict, which the United Nations has estimated has left more than 8,000 dead and thousands more displaced.

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