Inside Syria’s crackdown: ‘I found my boys burning in the street’

Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser, was in Syria for 10 days during the second half of April. Rovera has worked at Amnesty International for 20 years and has extensive experience of working in conflict zones, including Libya, South Sudan, Ivory Coast and Gaza. Here she reports some of the first-hand accounts of the brutal crackdown by the Syrian regime against its people.

“Soldiers came to our home and took my son. Later, as I was peering out of the window I saw soldiers line up eight young men standing facing the wall with their hands tied at the back and shoot them. Then they put the bodies in the back of a pick-up truck and left. I don’t know if the men were all dead or injured. At that point I did not know that one of the men was my son. His body was found with other bodies at a school not too far from our home.”

A relative of another man, who was also killed that day told me: “Members of the military security came to the house of our relatives, where we were staying and asked for our ID and did not find any problem; we were not wanted. Then one of the soldiers looked at my relative’s cell phone and found a pro-revolution song. They took him outside … A neighbour told me the soldiers had shot him and then taken him to a nearby house; I went there and found him injured. He had been shot in the ear and neck but was still breathing. Some neighbours helped to carry him to the car and three of them took him to a field hospital (normal hospitals have long been out of bounds to people injured by the army/security forces) but on the way there they were stopped by soldiers and were killed. Their bodies were later found at a school, except the body of my relative who had been taken back to the house where he had previously been left for dead. They had finished him off with an additional shot to the head.”

These are the accounts of relatives of victims and witnesses of extrajudicial executions carried out by the Syrian government’s security forces in the city of Idlib on 16 April. They only agreed to meet me and speak on condition that their names and any details that could identify them would not be published. Others, whom I was able to reach after much chasing, said they could not speak as the danger of retaliation against them and their families is too great.

To say that families of victims and eyewitnesses are scared is an understatement. Those I met were literally terrified.

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