(New York) – The Arab League should publicly release its Syria monitoring mission’s final report in full and urge the United Nations Security Council to impose targeted sanctions to halt the ongoing killings, Human Rights Watch said today in a public letterto the Arab League and Arab foreign ministers. They will meet to discuss Syria on January 22, 2012. Human Rights Watch has documented ongoing daily violations by security forces against protesters and steps by the Syrian government to interfere with the work of the mission, including the detention of a wounded protester on January 1, 2012.
According to local activists, security forces have killed 506 civilians since the Arab League monitors began their mission in Syria on December 26, 2011. Attacks against security forces have also intensified in certain parts of the country. The mission’s credibility has been clouded since its inception by its lack of transparency and independence, Human Rights Watch said.The criteria for selecting the monitors have not been made available nor has any information about their monitoring experience. The mission has relied on the Syrian government for security and to transport monitors around the country, compromising the mission’s ability to access victims and witnesses safely. The mission’s interim report on January 8 has not been made public, and the Arab League has not shared information about the mission’s methodology.
“The Arab League should make its monitors’ report public to address increasing concerns that its monitoring mission is being manipulated by the Syrian authorities,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Only a transparent assessment of the monitoring mission can determine whether the monitors should stay in the country.”
In its letter, Human Rights Watch urged the Arab League to work with the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Syria, impose sanctions against the individuals responsible for grave violations, demand unhindered access for humanitarian missions, foreign journalists, and independent human rights organizations, call on the Syrian government to cooperate with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in establishing a human rights monitoring presence in Syria, and refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In the agreement it signed with the Arab League on December 19 the Syrian government pledged to end violence against peaceful protests, release detained protesters, withdraw armed elements from cities and residential areas, and allow Arab and international media unhindered access to all parts of Syria. Syria also pledged in the agreement to grant Arab League monitors unhindered and independent access to anyone they wish to interview to verify whether Syria has carried out these steps – including victims, detainees, and nongovernmental organizations. Syria guaranteed the safety of witnesses from reprisals.
A local resident told Human Rights Watch that security forces fired on demonstrators as they were leaving a mosque in al-Midan neighborhood of Damascus on December 27, hours before Arab League monitors visited the area. In another incident, in Jisr al-Shughur on January 10, witnesses reported that security forces shot at peaceful protesters attempting to reach Arab League observers.
In addition to violations of the agreement documented since the monitors arrived, Syrian authorities are arbitrarily detaining protesters and activists. The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a Syrian monitoring group, reported the detention of 490 people between December 26 and January 18.
A witness told Human Rights Watch about the detention of a wounded protester from a hospital in Daria on January 1. The witness said demonstrators had gathered outside the Daria police station, expecting the monitors to arrive:
Soon after we arrived, the security forces opened fire, shooting indiscriminately, and throwing tear gas canisters. I saw around 10 of the protesters getting shot and Anwar al-Debbas was one of them. We were taking the wounded to a field hospital set up in someone’s house. Al-Debbas was taken there but he was bleeding a lot and when we arrived he started having difficulty breathing. The doctor there immediately requested that we take him to a hospital because he needed surgery. His friends transferred him to the National Hospital in Daria.
A hospital employee told Human Rights Watch that after Al-Debbas was transferred to the hospital doctors determined he would need to be transferred to Al-Mouwasat Hospital to see a specialist. She said:
As the ambulance arrived to transfer him, the security forces entered the National Hospital and stormed into the surgery room where they hit the doctor while shouting, “Get out before I use you to sweep the floor for helping this animal.” They put Anwar in the ambulance belonging to the National Hospital and ordered the driver to drive them to the Military Hospital. After an hour, I called the ambulance driver to see where they took him. He said that he drove them to the 601 Military Hospital. I then realized that we will never hear from him or know what will happen to him.
The employee told Human Rights Watch that officials at the Military Hospital have denied that he is a patient there and claim to not know about his arrest.
Human Rights Watch has also gathered information on instances in which the Syrian military has not withdrawn from cities as required by the agreement, including in Jisr al-Shughur, Idlib, and the al-Midan neighborhood of Damascus. Witnesses also told Human Rights Watch that military forces remain in al-Sabile, Daraa; Baba Amr, Homs; al-Sultaniya, Homs; and Zabadani, a town near Damascus.
Further, while Syrian authorities have issued more visas to foreign journalists, the authorities continue to restrict the movement of journalists within Syria and encumber their work. An international journalist working in Syria told Human Rights Watch on January 11 that, “The Ministry of Information stopped us from going anywhere today but Damascus city center. The ministry requires us to get permission to film anywhere and it tells us where we can and cannot go.” Another reporter said she was granted access to Syria but informed by the Syrian Embassy that she could not bring in a laptop, severely restricting her ability to work.
“The Arab League should publicly recognize that Syria has not respected the League’s plan and work with the Security Council to increase pressure on the authorities and effectively curtail the use of firepower,” Whitson said.