November 11, 2011

II. Systematic Killings of Protestors and Bystanders

Because of the restrictions on access to information in Syria, the exact number of killings is impossible to verify. Information from local activists and organizations indicates that hundreds of people have been killed in Homs Governorate since protests began there in mid-March. Many of the killings took place during attacks on large gatherings of protesters and funeral processions, such as the killing of at least 13 people at the New Clock Tower Square on April 19 and the killing of 16 during a funeral near the Khaled Bin al-Waleed Mosque in the Khalidiyya neighborhood on July 19 (described in detail below). Other killings also took place during arrest operations, and there were incidents when security forces and militias opened fire at people in the street in drive-by shootings.

The “Violation Documentation Center” (VDC), a website created by a group of local activists, had registered 793 killings of civilians in Homs Governorate as of September 30, 2011.[27] Case details, such as names, dates, locations, and ages, which in a number of instances have been independently verified by Human Rights Watch, lend credibility to the number. Human Rights Watch has also documented killings not included in the list, which suggests that the list is not exhaustive.

According to the VDC, the highest number of killed were recorded in Homs city (149), Rastan (108), Tal Kalakh (45) and Talbiseh (25). In Homs city, neighborhoods hardest hit were Khalidiyya (36), Bab `Amro (27), Bab Sba’ (17), Bayyada (14) and Bab al-Dreib (12). These areas, predominantly populated by Sunnis, have been focal points for anti-government demonstrations.

Use of force by state security forces acting in a law-enforcement capacity must comply with standards set out in international law. Syria is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has specific treaty obligations to respect the rights to life and security, and to peaceful assembly. In most cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the use of force by security and law-enforcement officials appears to have been excessive and a violation of Syria’s international obligations. ­

The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that “law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”[28] 

The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provides that law enforcement officials “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force” and may use force “only if other means remain ineffective.”[29] When the use of force is necessary, law enforcement officials must “exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense.”[30] 

Article 10 of the Basic Principles requires that law enforcement officials “give clear warning of their intent to use firearms.”[31] Article 9 states that “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”[32]

The Basic Principles make clear that there can be no departure from these provisions on the basis of “exceptional circumstances such as internal political stability or any other public emergency,” i.e., these are non-derogable standards.[33]

Attacks on Protests and Funeral Processions

Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of incidents in which security forces and government-supported militias used violence to attack and disperse overwhelmingly peaceful protests.

Some of the most deadly attacks documented by Human Rights Watch include:

  • Killing of an unknown number during protest at New Clock Tower Square, Homs city, April 19.
  • Killing of 27 during protests in Homs city, April 22.
  • Killing of 30 during protests in Rastan, April 29.
  • Killing of 7 during protests in Homs city, June 17.
  • Killing of 5 during protests in Homs city, June 21.
  • Killing of 8 during protests in Homs city and suburbs, June 24.
  • Killing of 5 during protests in the Wa`er, Khalidiyya, and Bab `Amro neighborhoods, Homs city, July 15.
  • Killing of 16 during funeral at Khaled Bin Al-Waleed Mosque in Homs city, July 19.
  • Killing of 3 during protest outside the Omar Ibn al-Khattab mosque, Homs city, August 1
  • Killing of 3 during protest near Khaled bin al-Waleed Mosque, Homs city, August 5.
  • Killing of 4 during UN humanitarian assessment mission, Homs city, August 21.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces often resorted to lethal force even when protesters did not pose any threat to them. In several cases, security forces initially used teargas or fired in the air to disperse the crowds, but then opened fire with live ammunition directly at protesters who had not run away, the witnesses reported.

A typical example is the August 1 attack on protesters gathered outside the Omar Ibn al-Khattab mosque in the Mal`ab neighborhood of Homs city, during which three people were killed.[34] Amjad (not his real name) witnessed the attack and told Human Rights Watch:

Two buses with about 50 security forces wearing green showed up after people emerged from the mosque. The buses went by me, so I was basically between the security forces and the protesters. They [security forces] had electric batons and immediately threw three tear gas canisters and sound bombs as soon as they got out of the buses. Most of the protesters ran away, but around 200 stayed. At this point, the security forces attacked them. They used live bullets. Protesters were hiding in the alleyways off the main street. One man was shot with one bullet in his thigh and another in his testicles. We know about him because we treated him and took him to the hospital, but there were so many more.[35]

Louai (not his real name), whose brother was among the three people killed on August 1, told Human Rights Watch in a video testimony:

Suddenly a BTR [armored vehicle] comes out from Bottoul Street, next to a mall called Smart Mart. It had automatic weapons on the roof. Only ten of us were left trying to help the injured people and the ones who passed out from the tear gas. The BTR started firing at us as we were running away towards Hamra or Ghoutta Streets. When we reached Ghoutta Street, with bullets passing between our legs, a doctor and I hid in the first building that had its door open. Two meters away a man gets shot and falls between two cars. Then my brother gets killed while trying to move to another street to help his friend who was shot in the leg.[36]
Both witnesses told Human Rights Watch that none of the protesters had any weapons on them. Human Rights Watch has been unable to determine in this case whether protesters had thrown rocks at the security forces.

In other cases, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces fired directly at protesters – or mourners at funeral processions – without giving advance warning or making any effort to disperse protesters by nonviolent means. Mohammed (not his real name), whose 21-year-old cousin was among 16 killed when security forces and pro-government militias attacked people who had gathered for a funeral near the Khaled Bin al-Waleed mosque in Homs on July 19, told Human Rights Watch:

As we were burying the dead, I suddenly heard gunshots. Four pick-up vehicles with people in uniforms, helmets, and body armor drove up, shooting at the people with their automatic guns and guns mounted on the vehicles.
We started running away. The mother and brother of one of the dead were killed next to his coffin. My cousin tried to drag the mother’s body away. He suddenly fell, but I didn’t know at that time that he had been hit. As I was running away I saw an armored personnel carrier also shooting. I don’t know whether they were shooting in the air or at the crowd.[37]

Muhammad told human Rights Watch that he did not see any protesters attack the security forces. Muhammad’s version of the incident was corroborated by two other witnesses.[38] A paramedic who arrived to the Khalidiyya neighborhood after the incident told Human Rights Watch that he treated a number of men who had been shot in the abdomen and chest. “There were too many injuries to treat them all,” he said.[39] Human Rights Watch also reviewed video of the incident and of a convoy of pick-ups, ambulances, and what appear to be armored vehicles, which support the allegation that security forces were involved.

In a similar incident, security forces attacked protesters without warning in the Khalidiyya neighborhood in Homs on August 5, 2011. Maher (not his real name), a protester, recounted the incident to Human Rights Watch:

We walked through the street after Friday prayers, passing the checkpoint run by Air Force intelligence and military forces. They made note of us. After we passed, they started shooting along the street. Some old people had stayed in the mosque, but when they tried to leave the forces fired even on them, on everyone passing in the street. They shot one man in his leg. Another man, an old man, tried to help him, but they shot him in the hand. [40]

According to Maher, the protesters were not armed and represented no threat to the security forces.

In another example, two unmarked cars and armored vehicles from the army opened fire on a peaceful evening demonstration in the neighborhood of Bab Dreib on August 15. A woman who participated with her three-year-old told Human Rights Watch:

We went out in a peaceful protest with the whole family in Bab Dreib at about 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. last night. It was calm, so everything seemed ok. Then two cars showed up suddenly and opened fire, targeting people even as they were ducking and lying on the ground. They were white Kia Cerato cars with tinted windows, like those used by Air Force intelligence. The guns were machine guns. My husband leaned over our son to protect him, but the bullet entered our boy’s stomach. The doctors were able to remove the bullet, but it left a lot of damage.
People tried to run out and help the approximately 20 injured lying there, but then a tank [probably referring to an armored vehicle] came from the other end of the street, trapping us between the cars and the tank. The tank opened fire using large bullets, the kind that can bring down walls. It fired on walls and houses, since by then everyone had run inside.
Three hours later, more tanks and cars showed up and again started firing randomly. In all, I saw four people killed, all by machine guns from those two cars. I don’t know their names, but one was pregnant, one was about a year-and-a-half old, one was 30 years old, and one was 25 years old.[41]

Another witness interviewed separately by Human Rights Watch described the attack in similar terms.[42] Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain the names of those killed on August 15.

Security forces also opened fire on protesters who had gathered near the New Clock Tower Square on August 21 to attract the attention of a UN humanitarian assessment mission. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces killed four protesters.[43] Human Rights Watch reviewed two video clips taken in the area around the New Clock Tower Square that day, which show protesters being wounded by gunfire.[44] It is not clear from the videos who shot at the protesters, but in one of the videos security forces are seen nearby. None of the protesters in the footage were carrying any weapons. In one of the videos, some protesters can be seen throwing rocks at the security forces, but there was no evidence that they presented any lethal or serious threat to the security forces.

One journalist later reported that an opposition leader who was present told him that a group of defectors from the Syrian army intervened to defend the protesters and shot back at the security forces, killing two.[45] Human Rights Watch has been unable to independently verify an armed attack by the protesters in this instance.

In other instances, security forces continued to shoot at protesters as they were running away, indicating that lethal force was clearly not necessary because the protesters posed no threat to the forces while running away. Abu Wasim (not his real name), who was filming a protest in the Khalidiyya neighborhood on July 15, told Human Rights Watch:

Suddenly, they fired three shots in the air and then opened fire on us. Six protesters fell in front of me. We started running. Suddenly, we saw two red police cars, both Kia Rio station wagons, and a small white bus full of security services. The vehicles intercepted us and the security officers got out of the vehicles and started shooting without any warning. Nine people were wounded. Four were in critical condition and we took them to makeshift hospitals. Security officers took another three. I don’t know what happened to the other two.[46]

Syrian activists provided Human Rights Watch with the names of five protesters killed that day in Homs.[47]

Based on the accounts witnesses gave to Human Rights Watch in the various attacks the perpetrators included one or several of Syria’s security agencies (mukhabarat), armed pro-government militias often referred to as shabeeha, and sometimes army and police. According to the witness accounts, most of the violence was perpetrated by mukhabarat forces or shabeeha militias. In at least one case, in Tal Kalakh on May 14, a witness said that mukhabarat forces shot to death an army officer for refusing to open fire on protesters.[48]

Use of force by protestors

Syrian authorities have repeatedly claimed that the violence in Homs was perpetrated by armed terrorist gangs, incited and sponsored from abroad. Syria’s official news agency, SANA, has published the names of 53 members of Syria’s security forces (police, mukhabarat, and army) who died in Homs between May 18 and September 5. According to SANA, they were killed by “armed gangs” or “terrorists.”[49]

In almost all cases documented by Human Rights Watch, witnesses insisted that those killed and injured were unarmed and posed no threat to security forces. Statements from several security force members who defected lend credibility to this claim.[50]For example, a mukhabarat officer who defected told Human Rights Watch that a high-ranking mukhabarat officer ordered the soldiers to fire on the protesters holding a sit-in in the New Clock Tower Square in Homs on April 19, even though they knew that the protesters were unarmed. The soldiers complied, he said. He told Human Rights Watch:

The protesters had sat down in the square. We were told to disperse them with violence if needed. We were there with Air Force security, army, and shabeeha. At around 3:30 a.m., we got an order from Colonel Abdel Hamid Ibrahim from Air Force security to shoot at the protesters. We were shooting for more than half an hour. There were dozens and dozens of people killed and wounded. Thirty minutes later, earth diggers and fire trucks arrived. The diggers lifted the bodies and put them in a truck. I don’t know where they took them. The wounded ended up at the military hospital in Homs. And then the fire trucks started cleaning the square.[51]

Two witnesses corroborated the mukhabarat officer’s version of the events.[52] One witness who was at the square told Human Rights Watch:

At around midnight, a sheikh approached the speaker’s platform underneath the clock tower and announced that he had received a call from an officer in the Presidential Palace threatening that all protesters must disperse or face the consequences. The sheikh urged protesters to leave. Many did leave, but a group of around 3,000 remained. At around 2:15 a.m., we suddenly heard heavy gunfire. At the beginning, it looked like the security forces were shooting in the air. People started running away. As I was running, I heard people shouting that someone had been shot. A few of us tried to go get him but others then shouted that he had died. For 20 minutes, all we could hear was non-stop gunfire. I sheltered in a neighboring building on Dablan Street until the morning. At 7:30a.m., I left the building and could see some blood stains on the ground. There were crews cleaning the street, as if nothing had happened.[53]

To date, the exact number of dead from the night of April 19 remains unknown. According to the witnesses, many protesters who were in the square when the security forces opened fire were from villages and areas near Homs, which makes it harder for activists to collect the names of the dead. The VDC published the names of at least 7 people killed in Homs on April 19.[54]Activists showed Human Rights Watch footage of five gravely wounded persons being treated at Al-Bar Hospital. After the incident local activists reported that 150 people from the sit-in had gone missing. While many of those turned out to be detained, local activists reported that the whereabouts of at least 30 people remained unknown at the end of July. According to an October 14 email to Human Rights Watch from a spokesperson of the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of anti-government activists who organize and publicize protests,35 bodies were found in a garbage dump near al-Nasr Cemetery the day after the attack and 45 funerals were held in the following days.[55] Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently confirm this information.

While protesters appear to have been unarmed in most incidents, armed defectors intervened on some occasions after protesters came under fire from security forces. One local activist explained to Human Rights Watch that since June, army defections had increased and that many neighborhoods had about 15-20 defectors who would sometimes intervene when they heard gunfire. The activist recounted one incident he witnessed in Homs city on July 8:

There was a huge protest. Thousands of protesters marching from three mosques eventually joined at a roundabout near Brazil Street. Security forces first fired teargas. Then they opened fire with blanks, before they started using live fire. About seven protesters were injured. At that point, several defectors showed up on motorcycles and killed 14 or 15 members of the security forces using Kalashnikovs and pump-action shotguns. By the time the security forces returned with reinforcements, the protesters had dispersed.[56]

The activist claimed, however, that there were no armed defectors during the initial weeks of the protests or at the July 29 funeral, where he was present, during which 16 people were killed.[57]

A resident of Bab Dreib told Human Rights Watch that around 20 armed men, some soldiers who defected, and other local residents began protecting the neighborhood after security forces launched a large attack on Hama in early August:

[The defectors and residents] would not usually initiate any attack or carry their weapons openly. But if protesters would come under fire, then these men would try to shoot the security forces. Many of them were in Bab Dreib because they can hide in the neighboring groves.[58]

Violence by protesters or defectors deserves further investigation and anyone responsible for criminal activity may be held accountable and liable to lawful prosecution for crimes committed. However, these incidents by no means justify the disproportionate and systematic use of lethal force against demonstrators, which clearly exceeded any justifiable response to any threat presented by the overwhelmingly unarmed crowds.

Killings during Sweeping Military Operations and Mass Arrests

Since May, security forces have conducted large-scale operations in several towns in Homs Governorate, some of which resulted in many deaths and injuries.

Typically, security forces used heavy machine guns, including anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles, to fire into neighborhoods to scare people before entering with armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles. They cut off communications and established checkpoints restricting movement in and out of neighborhoods and delivery of food and medicine. These operations also involved large-scale arrest campaigns (see chapter on arbitrary detention below).

The killings occurred as a result of heavy machine gun fire from military vehicles, which sometimes penetrated people’s homes or hit them randomly; shootings by security personnel manning checkpoints or by snipers when residents tried to travel in or out of cordoned-off neighborhoods; or during arrests.

International law permits law-enforcement officials to use lethal force only to the extent absolutely necessary to prevent harm to themselves or others. The indiscriminate use of heavy machine guns in populated urban neighborhoods in the absence of sustained armed resistance violates those norms and places at risk the rights of residents to life, bodily integrity, and security.

Tal Kalakh, May 14 – 19

On May 14, security forces launched a large-scale operation in Tal Kalakh, a town of around 80,000 near the Lebanese border on the western edge of Homs Governorate. According to locally elected officials in Lebanese border towns, 3,500 Tal Kalakh residents had sought shelter in Lebanon by May 20.[59] Human Rights Watch interviewed 18 of those residents in May and June. According to those interviewed, a large peaceful protest took place in Tal Kalakh the previous day.[60] A 35-year old woman, Umm Omar (not her real name), who watched the protest from her home, located about 200 meters away from the Omar Ibn al-Khattab Mosque, told Human Rights Watch:

After the Friday midday prayer, people exited the mosque and marched through town to express their support for the people of Baniyas and call for freedom. I did not take part because my family had received a phone call from the security services two weeks earlier warning that if any of us protested, they would harm our relative who is detained at the Air Force branch of the security forces. I did not see any of the protesters with guns.[61]

Umm Omar reported that shortly after the demonstration began, a police car drove through town warning residents by loudspeaker that there were “terrorist snipers” in town. Shortly thereafter, snipers did appear on roofs throughout the city and opened fire on the protesters, she said, and the protesters dispersed.[62]

At around 4 a.m. on May 14, tanks and armored personnel vehicles surrounded Tal Kalakh, four witnesses from the town told Human Rights Watch.[63]At around 6:15 a.m., residents started hearing heavy gunfire as well as shelling. A family from the Burj neighborhood reported that water and electricity were cut off at about 8 a.m.[64]

The heavy gunfire prompted hundreds of people to attempt to escape to neighboring Lebanon. Six of those who made it to Lebanon and spoke to Human Rights Watch reported coming under fire as they escaped. A resident who crossed to Lebanon on foot with a neighbor reported coming under sniper fire and machine gun fire from men wearing camouflage, which led to his neighbor’s death.[65]

Another man, who fled midday on May 14 in a taxi with a driver and five women, said their car was fired upon from the direction of a Meshta Mahleh, an Alawite village located about halfway between Tal Kalakh and the Lebanese border. He reported seeing about ten men with automatic weapons in the hills near the village. A 25-year-old woman in the car was hit by a bullet in her leg.[66]

A witness from Lebanon reported seeing a group of families attempting to run across the bridge at the main border crossing in `Arida, but receiving fire from the surrounding hills. “The bullets came like rain,” he said. When the firing started, Lebanese soldiers at first dropped to the ground, but then helped the families across the border. The witness said he saw bullets hitting Lebanese military vehicles. He took a woman who was bleeding profusely to the hospital in Lebanon, he said.[67]

That evening, a group of Tal Kalakh residents organized a truck to transport civilians to Lebanon, two women who rode in the truck told Human Rights Watch. Both women reported that the truck was guarded by a team of young men armed with guns on motorcycles on its first trip, which passed without incident. The truck returned to Tal Kalakh to pick up more women and children, but came under heavy fire the second time, they said, when the truck was protected by less people than it had been earlier.[68]

A woman who was in the truck on its second journey when it came under fire told Human Rights Watch:

When the truck arrived, there were so many people piled on top of each other. The truck came under fire halfway through the 15-minute trip, as it was passing the village of Mashteh Mahleh, hitting the truck’s tires and forcing us to ride the rest of the way on the rims. Once we got to the border, men wearing black and with red armbands opened fire on us. I saw two men, Maiz Haloum and Muhammad Haloum, killed as they helped people across the river that separates Syria from Lebanon.[69]

Residents who remained in Tal Kalakh reported hearing heavy gun fire all day on May 15 and on the morning of May 16. All witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch were hiding inside their homes and did not have any details on casualties. One family from the Burj neighborhood benefitted from a lull in the shooting on May 16 to escape. The mother told Human Rights Watch:

At 4:00 a.m. on Monday [May 16], there was a lull in the fighting and we left on foot with our children. We saw tanks throughout the city. There were some corpses in the streets but I don’t know how many as it was still quite dark. By sunrise, we reached another village near the Lebanese border, where we rested briefly and drank water. We heard gunfire start again and proceeded another three kilometers to cross the river into Lebanon. We were 13 in the group that tried crossing. The Syrian army was up in the hills, 100 to 500meters away from the river. They opened fire on us and yelled orders for us to return. We ran so quickly we couldn’t see who made it and who didn’t.[70]

A man who left Tal Kalakh in the early hours of May 17said that he counted more than 74 tanks and armored personnel vehicles around the town.[71]

Many residents told Human Rights Watch that they were hiding and did not know if security forces encountered any armed resistance. One resident told Human Rights Watch that he saw eight tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) damaged as he was leaving town. He later heard from some residents that it was men from Tal Kalakh who had shot at the tanks and APCs with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.[72]

On May 17 and 18, security forces carried out house-to-house searches in Tal Kalakh, detaining a large number of men and boys, regardless of age. A 66-year-old man who had stayed in Tal Kalakh told Human Rights Watch about his arrest on May 17:

My family escaped in the early hours of May 17. But I decided to stay in my house. At my age, I had no desire to walk across hills and rivers. At 9:30 a.m., around 20 men from the army and the security forces stormed my house and took me in my pajamas to the hospital, which they had turned into a detention facility. I saw three children detained with us. They were around 13-years-old. They put us in cramped cells and beat us multiple times a day. My age shielded me somewhat, but they still beat me on my face and back and electrocuted me twice with an electric baton. I was released seven days later. [73]

At least 34 people were killed during the security operation in Tal Kalakh between May 15 and 18, according to the Violations Documentation Center.[74]

Rastan, May 29 – June 3

On May 29, security forces entered Rastan, a city of an estimated 50,000 residents 20 kilometers north of Homs, cutting off water, communication, and electricity supply to the city. The operation followed a demonstration on May 27, the largest one in Rastan up until then. Security forces also entered the nearby towns of Talbiseh, Teir Ma`aleh, and Deir Ba`albeh, forming a belt around northern Homs.[75]

According to phone interviews with five residents in Rastan as well as 10 videotaped testimonies of witnesses that local residents and activists provided to Human Rights Watch, security forces shelled mosques, a cemetery, the town’s main bakery, and a number of homes, and opened fire on people in the streets in the course of the five-day long security operation.[76] At least 75 people were killed during the operation, according to the Violations Documentation Center.[77]

Several of those killed had multiple gun wounds. One example was 14-year old Abdallah Abdel Razzak Jeha from Bagha, a neighboring village. According to a relative, who provided Human Rights Watch with a video testimony, Abdallah left the village on May 29 to bring food to Rastan, but never came back. After a couple of days, a security official told the family to collect the body from the National Hospital in Homs. The relative said in the video testimony:

We went to pick up the corpse from the hospital where we were ordered to perform a normal funeral procession without any protests. When we brought his corpse back home we saw five bullet shots; one in his head, one on the left side of his chest, two in his stomach, and one in his leg.[78]

Human Rights Watch reviewed footage of Abdallah’s body that matches the description by the relative.

Another witness, whose son had been killed during the operation, told Human Rights Watch:

The military was shooting randomly. My son went out of the house [on May 29] heading towards the industrial area and never came back. In the meantime, shooting intensified. We started looking for him. Every day or two we received news from people saying either that he was injured, shot, or he’s in the custody of one of the security branches. We searched in hospitals but didn’t find him. On June 28, we received a call saying that an unidentified body from Rastan is at the morgue of the National Hospital. It turned out to be his body. We brought the body to Rastan. While washing his body for burial we saw two gunshot marks that looked like a bullet entered his ear and exited from his head. Another gunshot wound was visible on his stomach, right hand, and shoulder.[79]

A video of the corpse reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows a bullet entry hole in the victim’s stomach and ear and bruises on his face.

A lawyer from Rastan told Human Rights Watch that during the first day of the military operation on May 29 security forces killed around 20 protesters and injured 40. One of those killed was his 25-year-old nephew, Muhammad Amin Abdel Hassib al-Ashtar.[80]

According to media reports, local activists documented the killing of another five people in Rastan on May 31, the same day that President al-Assad issued a general amnesty covering members of “all political movements.”[81]One of the victims was four-year-old Marwa Hassan Shakhdu.[82]

The following day, June 1, SANA quoted a military source saying army and security forces seized weapons and ammunition in Rastan and killed or injured “a number of armed terrorists.”[83]Three soldiers were killed in the operation and seven injured, according to SANA. In an email to the media on May 31, LCC activists contested government accounts of protester violence and vandalism, claiming security forces had set the police station alight to destroy their own files.[84]

The shelling continued until June 2. A Rastan resident, a lawyer, who was wounded on June 2 stated in a testimony videotaped by a local activist:

On June 2, Rastan was still besieged by security forces. I was crossing the main road near my house by the Rastan bridge when I was shot by military forces stationed next to the Rastan National Hospital. Subsequently, the military forces repeatedly called out loudly for me to walk towards them. I got to my knees and raised my hands, covered with blood, to show them that I am injured and incapable of walking. They insisted that I walk towards them or else they will shoot at me again. I pulled my strength together, stood up and started walking slowly along the bridge.
As soon as I approached them, they grabbed me like the beast that jumps on its prey and forced me to lie on the floor while they encircled me and started taking pictures, cursing, and searching me for possession of a weapon. I later found out that they stole my mobile and around 7,000 Syrian pounds [around $140], they only left my ID. When the military forces found out that I am a lawyer they started calling me “leader of the Islamic Kingdom” and accusing me of plotting the terrorist attacks in the country. In the meantime, the ambulance arrived and drove me with the military forces to the National Hospital in Hama. [85]

Sniper fire stationed on rooftops continued into June 3, killing another six people, according to VDC tallies. Local activists told Human Rights Watch that they were sure the snipers were security forces. [86] LCC activists reported in an email update on June 3 that security and military forces firing machine guns stormed houses in Rastan to conduct arrests. They also reportedly bombed the home of Fatima Umm Akram Alwan. [87]


In Homs city, security forces conducted operations on a regular basis, targeting different neighborhoods. Operations varied in scope and intensity; several led to injuries and deaths.

Between July 21 and 25, for example, security forces cordoned-off several neighborhoods, including Bab Sba`, Khalidiyya, and Bayyada. Movement was restricted, and residents from neighboring areas attempted to organize delivery of food and medical supplies to the cordoned-off areas. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the injured were afraid to seek treatment in public hospitals and that the blockade had made it much more difficult to get injured to hospitals deemed to be safe. Many of the injured were being treated in private houses.

Abu Adam (not his real name) told Human Rights Watch:

Security forces blocked off Bab Sba` completely [on July 21]. Cars trying to get through were shot at from heavy military vehicles and pedestrians and bicycles were shot at by snipers. When we tried to bring food and medicine into the area on the morning on July 21, security forces opened fire. They killed one person, injured a second, and arrested the third.[88]

On at least one occasion in the following days, security forces and men in civilian clothes driving through the neighborhoods opened fire on residents who happened to be out in the streets. Abu Ahmad (not his real name), a resident of Bayyada neighborhood, told Human Rights Watch that he saw one person killed and about 20 injured in drive-by shootings on July 25. According to Abu Ahmad, who was sitting outside his house on al-Zir Street, people in civilian clothes and body armor driving a pick-up truck and a taxi opened fire on people in the street around 7 a.m., killing Khaled al-Awayshi, a neighbor. Abu Ahmad told Human Rights Watch that he watched as the pick-up drove to the Air Force intelligence base, around 600 meters away. Shortly thereafter, three armored military vehicles arrived, also opening fire. According to Abu Ahmad, most of the injured were shot from the military vehicles.[89]

In another example, local activists told Human Rights Watch that 12 people were killed in an operation that started on August 10.[90] One Homs resident told Human Rights Watch:

The attack started yesterday [August 10] at about 4 a.m. and continued until today [August 11]. The sounds were enormous. There were constant explosions and .50 BMG [refers to large bullets used in machine guns] fire coming from Bab `Amro and Insha’at next to the bakery. This gunfire has a very particular sound. There was a break around iftar time yesterday [6:00 p.m.], then it started up again, but not as heavy.
I tried to go to those areas by car, but the police had blocked off Brazil Street, close to Bab `Amro. Then after the taraweeh prayer [special prayers performed every night during the month of Ramadan] I was in al-Mal`ab and there were no police, which is very unusual for al-Mal`ab.  Normally, security forces are there every day shooting in the air, since this is a popular, important area. Around 11 p.m., when I was back home in Khalidiyya, the shooting intensified again and didn’t let up until 6 a.m. this morning, sometimes with great intensity and sometimes with small guns. This morning I was at Dablan Street and heard sounds from Bab `Amro. The police forces and some soldiers were surrounding the neighborhood. There were no communications inside – no phone, no mobile, no internet.
The security forces were searching for a list of wanted men. We live as in war. We didn’t sleep all night last night. The shooting and fire came from everywhere, from yesterday until today.[91]

[27] The VDC list is available at (accessed October 12, 2011).

[28] United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, adopted December 17, 1979, G.A. res. 34/169, annex, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 186, U.N. Doc. A/34/46 (1979), art. 3.

[29] Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, 27 August to 7 September 1990, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.144/28/Rev.1 at 112 (1990), principle 4.

[30] Ibid., principle 5(a). Principle 9 of the Basic Principles states: “Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

[31] Ibid., principle 10.

[32] Ibid., principle 9.

[33] Ibid., principle 8.

[34] The three men killed were Ahmad al-Fakhouri, 17, Adnan Abdul Dayem, 27, and Osama al-Ghafary (age unknown).

[35] Human Rights Watch Skype interview, name withheld, August 2, 2011.

[36] Video testimony provided to Human Rights Watch, name withheld.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, July 25, 2011.

[38] Human Rights Watch interviews, name and place withheld, July 19, 2011; video testimony provided to Human Rights Watch.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, July 19, 2011.

[40] Human Rights Watch Skype interview, name withheld, August 11, 2011.

[41] Human Rights Watch Skype interview, name withheld, August 16, 2011.

[42] Human Rights Watch Skype interview, name withheld,August 16, 2011.

[43] Human Rights Watch phone interviews, names withheld,August 21, 2011,.

[44] YouTube footage available at, (accessed October 12, 2011).

[45] Nir Rosen, Al Jazeera English, “The Tides of Mosques,”October 2, 2011, (accessed October 7, 2011).

[46] Human Rights Watch Skype interview, July 16, 2011, name withheld.

[47] Nur al-Deen Maher al-Kaheel, Jamal Rajoob, `Amer YassinHusa (originally from Latakia), Adnan al-Zeer, and Khaled Hallak, 16.

[48] According to Aslan (not his real name), who said he was standing about 100 meters away, a mukhabarat officer shot the army officer when he turned around, seemingly refusing an order to fire on the protestors. A common friend later told Aslan that the officer killed was Capt. Ahmed Harba. Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, July 30, 2011.

[49] See, for example:;;

[50] “Syria: Defectors Describe Orders to Shoot Unarmed Protesters,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 9, 2011,

[51] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld,Tripoli, June 16, 2011.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, July 30, 2011; Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, October 5, 2011.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, October 5, 2011.

[55] Email to Human Rights Watch, October 14, 2011.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, July 26, 2011.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, October 5, 2011.

[59] Human Rights Watch interviews with two Lebanese mukhtars, locally elected officials, May 16-19, 2011.

[60] Human Rights Watch interviews, names withheld, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, May 16-19, 2011. Protesters posted footage of the May 13 protest on youtube: (footage confirmed by local residents).

[61]  Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, May 16, 2011.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Human Rights Watch interviews with four women, May 16, 2011; interview with woman, May 16, 2011; interview with woman, May 17, 2011; interview with woman, May 17, 2011; interview with married couple, May 17, 2011, Human Rights Watch interview with elderly man, June 16, 2011. All interviews were conducted in Wadi Khaled, Lebanon.

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with married couple, Dababbiyeh, Lebanon, May 17, 2011.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, May 16, 2011.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, May 16, 2011.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, May 16 and 17, 2011.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, May 16 and 17, 2011.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, May 16, 2011.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Human Rights Watch interview, June 16, 2011, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview, June 16, 2011, Wadi Khaled, Lebanon.

[73] Human Rights Watch interview,name and place withheld, June 16, 2011.

[75] LCC email on May 29, 2011;“Syrian troops encircle Rastan town, kill 2-witness,” Reuters, May 29, 2011 (accessed October 8, 2011)

[76] Human Rights Watch interviews were conducted between June 28 and August 4. The video testimonies were delivered in three batches: July 20, September 2, and September 29.

[78] Video testimony, delivered to Human Rights Watch on July 20, 2011.

[79] Video testimony, delivered to Human Rights Watch on July 20, 2011.

[80] Human Rights Watch Skype interview with lawyer, June 28, 2011.

[81] “Syria’s Assad grants amnesty as 5 killed in crackdown,”Reuters, May 31, 2011, (accessed October 8, 2011).

[83] “Army and Security Forces Arrest Members of Armed Terrorist Groups in al-Rastan, Seize Massive Amounts of Weapons and Ammunition,” June 1, 2011, (accessed October 12, 2011).

[84] LCC email, May 31.

[85] Video testimony, delivered to Human Rights Watch on July 20, 2011.

[86] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Rastan activist, August 18, 2011.

[87] LCC email, June 3, 2011.

[88] Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, July 27, 2011.

[89] When about 500 people gathered at the Tal al-Nasr cemetery around noon the same day to bury the man killed in the drive-by shooting, four armored military vehicles drove into the cemetery and opened fire without warning. According to AbuAhmad, nobody was injured, but everybody ran away, leaving the cemetery guard to finish the burial.Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, July 27, 2011.

[90] FarhanShamdin; Maher al-Khaled; Abdulbasit al-Khaled; Ghasan al-Doush; Mahmoud al-Ghantawi; Sha’af al-’Alwin; Khaled al-Susli; Khaled al-Farij; daughter of FarhanShamdin; Khaled al-Sa’ud; Marhaf Judit al-Sayyid; and Tamer al-Shamuri.

[91] Human Rights Watch Skype interview, August 11, 2011, name withheld. Iftar refers to the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan.