9 Jun 2011

’77 children killed’ in Syria unrest

Amnesty International reveals to Channel 4 News that it has the names of 77 children killed in the recent violence, plus reports of a third child tortured to death.

A child on her way to a Turkish refugee camp (Getty)

The human rights group Amnesty International has revealed to Channel 4 News that they have the names of 77 children killed during 3 months of unrest in Syria.

Senior Syria researcher Neil Sammonds said out of 1060 known deaths of civilians in Syria, nearly ten per-cent were children, more than doubling UNICEF’s previous estimate of 30 on June 1st.

“We have definitely seen a pattern of increased brutality recently, we’ve documented around 20 cases where there are signs of torture, and those cases are coming out more frequently now. It seems security forces are now willing to use violence without provocation at all,” he said.

The details emerged as new video footage was released showing the mutilated body of 15-year-old Thamer al-Sahri, who was arrested at a protest in April in Saida near Deraa. He was detained alongside his friend 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb. Video images of Hamza’s mutilated body caused international outrage when they became public last week.

We have definitely seen a pattern of increased brutality in recent days Neil Sammonds, Amnesty International

Neil Sammonds also revealed to Channel 4 News that Amnesty International are trying to confirm reports that a third child’s body has also been mutilated.

The video footage of Thamer al-Sahri’s body showed his body had been riddled with bullets, that his eye had been gouged out, and that he had lost several teeth. This new footage has sparked protests in Jeeza where hundreds of residents took to the street on Wednesday, the day the body was released to the family.

The revelations of Hamza’s death in late May coincided with intense unrest in Syria, with solidarity demonstrations spreading to over 200 different locations.

Read more: Tortured 13 year old a symbol for Syrian resistance 

‘Deplorable’ level of violence

Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Thursday condemned the level of brutality in the strongest terms.

“The unimaginably cruel murder and mutilation of this child [Hamza al-Khateeb] seems to be emblematic of the moral and legal bankruptcy of the apparent policy of crushing dissent by all available means,” the High Commissioner said.

“It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers,” she continued.

It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The former UN war crimes judge urged Syrian authorities to allow a fact-finding mission into the country to investigate all allegations of atrocities, including Syrian state television reports that 120 members of the security forces had been killed in the north western city of Jisr ul-Shughour near the Turkish border.

A grandmother and child travel to a Turkish refugee camp (Getty)

Refugees from Jisr al-Shughour

There are fears of more violence as 2,000 elite troops and 40 tanks from the Syrian army’s 4th division – led by President Assad’s younger brother Maher al-Assad – encircled the northwestern city of Jisr al-Shughour near the Turkish border, prompting the majority of its 50,000 people to flee.

The Syrian government had previously said it would take “firm and forceful” action after it claimed 120 troops were killed and mutilated by “armed gangs” during multiple attacks. But activists and eyewitnesses say the officials were killed by a helicopter gunship because they refused to open fire on a funeral procession.

Thousands cross the Turkish border

Metin Corabatir, an officer at the UN’s refugee agency in Ankara – the UNHCR – told Channel 4 News that he had been informed by Turkish authorities that 2,500 refugees had arrived in Turkey and that the number was growing.

We cannot be sure on the exact numbers, but they are growing occuring to local sources Metin Corabatir, UNHCR

He said that although the UNHCR have not got a presence on the Syrian border he had “no reason to disbelieve” that Turkish authorities were turning away displaced people.

“We cannot be sure on the exact numbers, but they are growing, according to local sources, and we have no reason to disbelieve Turkish officials who are doing a good job there.”

Turkish authorities have prevented refugees from talking to the media.

The Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who had previously enjoyed good relations with Syria, promised: “We will always keep our doors open to our Syrian brothers and sisters.”

He added that Turkey could not accept “another Hama,” in reference to the massacre of up to 40,000 people in 1982, which was orchestrated by President Assad’s father Hafez.

With just three days before Turkish parliamentary elections, the authorities’ treatment of syrian refugees is likely to have political overtones.

UN action

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal have put forward a UN draft resolution to the Security Council that condemns the Syrian regime’s systematic violation of human rights but does not authorise concrete military action. It demands an immediate end to violence and access for humanitarian workers.

“The world cannot be silent when every day people in Syria, who are doing nothing but standing up for their legitimate human and civil rights, are being killed and tortured,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

But the motion, which calls for an inclusive Syrian-led peace process, has been opposed by Russia, a current major arms supplier to Syria and former cold war ally.

“We do not believe the Syrian issue is a subject for consideration by the Security Council, let alone the adoption of some kind of resolution,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

“The situation in this country, in our view, does not present a threat to international peace and security,” he continued.

The position of other countries on the Security Council – like China and India – is also uncertain.

The draft resolution is expected to be voted on by the end of the week.