U.N. Official Warns Syrian Rebels About Atrocities

September 11, 2012
By , The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The top United Nations human rights official warned opposition fighters in Syria on Monday that they would not be immune from prosecution for atrocities, as videos from the Syrian city of Aleppo appeared to show a mass execution by rebel fighters of bound and blindfolded Syrian government soldiers.

One of the videos, first publicized on Monday on the Brown Moses blog, which curates and analyzes video evidence from Syria, showed at least 20 corpses lying in a crooked row on a bloodstained street curb. The victims wore fatigues but no shoes. Several appeared to have been shot in the head.

In that video and another that captured the same scene, different rebel groups appear to take responsibility for the killings. It was impossible to immediately confirm the authenticity of the videos, or to determine exactly when and where they were recorded. If confirmed, the executions were likely to add to growing concerns about the conduct of the militias fighting to topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and particularly their treatment of prisoners.

In a brutal episode in late July, a group of rebel fighters was seen in a video executing several captives — members of an Aleppo family accused of being enforcers for the government — with a spray of gunfire. In recent days, other videos have captured summary executions by the rebels.

Speaking in Geneva on Monday, Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, warned of atrocities by both the government and its opponents. Both, she said, “deploy snipers that target civilians.” Ms. Pillay also said the Syrian government’s attacks on civilians and destruction of homes “may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity,” according to a transcript of Ms. Pillay’s remarks on her office’s Web site.

And in a stern warning directed at antigovernment forces, Ms. Pillay noted the “undoubted climb in human rights violations” attributed to the rebels, including abductions and summary executions. “Opposition forces should be under no illusion that they will be immune from prosecution,” she said.

In one of the videos showing the executed soldiers, a narrator claims that a rebel battalion called Salman al-Farisi was responsible for killing the men. A man who claimed to be a representative of the battalion, contacted through its Facebook page, condemned the killings but said he was not sure whether members of the militia were responsible for them. The video of the executions was subsequently removed from the battalion’s Facebook page.

In a video posted by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a man attributes responsibility to a different battalion.

“Assad’s dogs,” the man says, panning the camera across the scene of bodies contorted in anguish or slumped in a fetal position. “God is great.”

The leader of the Syrian Observatory, who uses the pseudonym Rami Abdul-Rahman for safety reasons, said that the exact location of the killings was not clear, but that the soldiers might have been part of a contingent from a military base in the Hanano district that rebel fighters attacked on Friday.

Also on Monday, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announced that it was convening a meeting of regional states to try to find a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict. Diplomats from Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were expected to meet in Cairo in the coming days — an initiative that has been widely viewed as an effort by Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, to reassert his country’s regional leadership role.

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/world/middleeast/united-nations-warns-syrian-rebels-over-atrocities.html?_r=1

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