Amid widening Syria violence, a new war-crimes charge (+video) (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Rolla Scolari ANTAKYA, TURKEY 04/09/12)
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Articles-Index-Top
Syrian refugees say Assad´s soldiers are forcing women and children
to march in front of advancing tanks to prevent rebels from opening
fire. International law forbids the use of human shields.
Syrian security forces have started using civilians as human shields
to prevent attacks by Syrian rebels, according to refugees. The
tactic appears to have dissuaded at least some rebels from opening
fire, but a prominent human rights group has pointed to it as yet
another war crime committed by President Bashar al-Assad´s regime.
Refugees fleeing Syria´s northern Idlib province gave the Monitor
detailed eyewitness accounts of numerous human shield incidents –
many involving women and young children – in recent weeks. They
described seeing Syrian soldiers forcing children to march in front
of their tanks as government forces advanced into rebel strongholds.
IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria
In one instance, when loyalists advanced on the hamlet of Shaturiya,
a few miles from Janudieh, a construction In one instance, when
loyalists advanced on the hamlet of Shaturiya, a few miles from
Janudieh, a construction worker who had fled to a nearby hilltop saw
the troops putting small groups of women and children in front of the
His son, a 13-year-old who stayed behind in the village when his
father fled, was one of those forced to serve as a human shield,
according to both of them. The son, slender-framed and matter-of-
fact, said he was forced to stand in front of the tanks in the
village "for almost six hours, until around midday, without touching
food and water."
When the Army left town, the father came back, took his wife and
children and went directly for the border. The family now lives in
the Turkish refugee camp of Yayladağı. They are among the record
24,000 Syrians who have taken refuge in Turkey, raising the regional
stakes for a solution to the Syria violence.
Brutal tactics ahead of April 10 cease-fire
The testimonies regarding Syria´s use of human shields – provided to
the Monitor by eight individual refugees interviewed in the city of
Anyakya and in refugee camps in Turkey within days of their fleeing –
painted a picture of a regime crackdown on its own population that
appears to be growing more brutal by the day.
The accounts of these eight refugees are supported by a Human Rights
Watch report that documents similar tales, some corroborated by
video, which together suggest the practice has become more widespread
in recent months.
With an April 10 deadline for a cease-fire just hours away, the
regime´s relentless shelling of residential neighborhoods, its
deliberate targeting of civilians, and its attacks on unarmed
protesters appear to be continuing.
The Syrian authorities said yesterday they would not withdraw without
written guarantees from opposition fighters that they will lay down
their arms. Indeed, Syrian forces opened fire on a refugee camp on
the Turkish side of the border on Monday, wounding three persons and
enraging the Turkish government.
In its report, Human Rights Watch said the Syrian regime´s use of
human shields "is yet another reason why the UN Security Council
should refer Syria to the International Criminal Court."
Ole Solvang, the Human Rights Watch researcher who wrote the report,
said the use of human shields amounted to "a serious violation of
international law." The practice is prohibited under the Geneva
"The use of human shields is a war crime and those responsible should
be held accountable," Mr. Solvang said.
HRW also issued another report today documenting more than a dozen
incidents of summary executions, in which Syrian forces killed at
least 101 civilians and wounded or captured rebels.
´I saw them forcing women to walk in front of tanks´
In early March, government forces began pouring into the restive
Idlib province, where rebels had found refuge in the mountainous
Jabal al-Zawiyeh region, a cluster of small, difficult-to-reach
villages southwest of the provincial capital.
Solvang said the regime appeared to begin using human shields here in
response to the rebels use of roadside bombs.
As the Syrian government forces advanced into their villages in mid-
March, residents said their fellow villagers were forced to march in
front of the advancing armor columns.
Two Syrian refugees from the village of Janudieh said that when
Syrian tanks entered their village on March 11, the troops smashed up
local shops and the village pharmacy. Groups of local villagers,
mostly women and children since the men had mostly fled to avoid
arrest, marched alongside tanks, they said.
"I saw them forcing women and children to walk in front of the
advancing tanks," said one of the two refugees, who was a high school
teacher in the village. He declined to give his name out of fear of
his safety, like most of the individuals interviewed for this article.
His 21-year-old friend, a private who defected from the Syrian Army
who gave his name as Nour, said he, too, witnessed the incident. He
spoke from his hospital bed, with a foot-long wound across his
abdomen, which he said he suffered later that same day.
Tawfik Kalash, a young lieutenant who defected from the Army, fled
Janudieh early in the morning when he heard the government tanks were
approaching. On his way out of town, he said he saw a soldier forcing
a woman from his village to climb on top of a tank.
"Once they saw there were no rebel fighters around, the troops let
the civilian go," he said.
Rebel: ´We had to stop and leave´
Ghassan Alewi, a barber from Silat al-Zuhur in the Jabal el-Zawiyah
region, was sheltering in the nearby village of al-Lij when the
regime forces moved in in mid-March. Before trying to get back to his
house, he saw the soldiers grab some women who were passing by and
put them in front of the advancing troops.
"If they are looking for a certain Mohammed, for example, they would
take his wife," Mr. Alewi said.
The tough regime tactic appears to have worked. Abu Zhaki, a rebel
commander in Jabal el-Zawiyeh, said that in mid-March he was with his
men in the village of Ayn Larouz when government forces came. The
rebels engaged them, but soon had to stop.
"During the fighting, we saw the soldiers gathering civilians in
front of them. We had to stop and leave," he said. (© The Christian
Science Monitor. 04/09/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY