A Primer on the Conflict in Syria By John E. Marshall* Afaf didn’t look like a protester.

She wasn’t involved in any anti-government uprisings, at least not personally. She never carried a sign, never marched in the streets for freedom. She never said a word to her family, or anyone for that matter, about the problems in neighboring cities. She hadn’t even formed an opinion about the violence around her, and wasn’t really aware that danger was so close. She spent her days with her family, content to share quiet time with them. But the sparkle in her eye, the twinkle of possibilities, and dreams of a beautiful future were snuffed out the day she died. Another victim of the ongoing senseless and barbaric violence in Syria, she died from torture and neglect. She was just four months old,1 and one of approximately 9,000 estimated deaths in Syria.2 The situation on the ground in Syria has gotten so desperate and fragmented, and with foreign media expelled, the U.N. has stopped updating the death toll beyond these staggering estimates.3


* Impunity Watch Associate Special Features Editor; J.D. Candidate, Syracuse University College of Law, 2013.

A 4 Months Old Baby, Afaf, Was Received By Her Uncle, A Dead Body, During Assad’s Speech, KATAEB.ORG, Jan. 11, 2012, http://kataeb.org/EN/News/265526.

Syria: New Report Finds Systemic and Widespread Torture and Ill-Treatment in Detention, AMNESTY INT’L, Mar. 14, 2012, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/syria-new-report-findssystemic-and-widespread-torture-and-ill-treatment-detention-2012-03-13; see also Syrian Death Toll Mounts as Diplomatic War Heats Up, VOICE OF AM., Feb. 1, 2012, http://blogs.voanews.com/breaking-news/2012/02/01/syrian-death-toll-mounts-as-diplomaticwar-heats-up/.

UN Unable to Compile Syrian Death Toll, FRANCE 24, Jan. 26, 2012, http://www.france24.com/en/20120126-syria-united-nations-death-toll-crackdown-human-rights.

BACKGROUND The Syrian revolution, which unofficially began with the January 2011 protests, has actually been a decades-long struggle between the party in power, the minority Alawite (historically Shia offshoot) Ba’ath party, and the Kurds and Sunnis.4 Alawites, as Bashar alAssad and his father self-describe, comprise the entirety of the top Syrian military, security, and intelligence offices, yet remain a minority of the Syrian population.5 Lower government offices are largely held by the majority Sunnis.6 By remaining the most politically powerful sect in Syria, Alawites exert direct government control and, by dominating the security and military forces, have been instrumental in suppression of any protests against the president.7 When rising to power in 1970, President Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, instigated the Corrective Revolution and installed himself and his Ba’ath Party as the regime in Syria, and the Alawites as its security force.8 Forty-one years later, the Syrian people have grown weary of continued human rights violations under that authoritarian and totalitarian government’s oppression and disenfranchisement of its people.


Anne Alexander, Syria Protests: The Forgotten Decades of Dissent, BBC NEWS, Mar. 29, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12890797.

Ishaan Tharoor, Syria’s Alawites: The Minority Sect in the Halls of Power, TIME, Mar. 30, 2011, http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/03/30/syrias-alawites-the-minority-sect-in-the-hallsof-power/.

Background Note: Syria, U.S. DEPT. OF STATE, Mar. 9, 2012. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm.

Leon Goldsmith, Alawites for Assad: Why the Syrian Sect Backs the Regime, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Apr. 16, 2012, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137407/leon-goldsmith/alawitesfor-assad.

Robert Danin, Remembering Hafez al-Assad, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS, Nov. 11, 2011, http://blogs.cfr.org/danin/2011/11/11/remembering-hafez-al-assad/.

THE ARAB SPRING HITS SYRIA As other neighboring Arab nations experienced revolution and turmoil, Bashar al-Assad declared that Syria would be immune from those kinds of mass protests.9 However, the protests began, and Assad, blaming the uprising on Sunni clerics and dissidents, began leaning heavily upon his Alawite-heavy security forces to suppress the uprising.10 That suppression has

prompted global outrage at the Assad administration, and news of the associated tragedies has poured out on social media like so much blood from the victims. The January protests escalated into what reports have claimed as a full uprising by March 2011, where over 100,000 people marched in Daraa.11 At least 20 were killed by security and military forces, followed by protests in other cities.12 This led to more than 70 deaths.13 The uprisings began predominantly in the smaller city of Daraa, while the larger cities of Damascus and Aleppo have avoided the violence and have remained essentially pro-government and proAssad.14 President al-Assad and the government responded to the protests with force, but agreed

Arab Uprising Infects ‘Immune’ Syria, UNITED PRESS INT’L, Mar. 22, 2011, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/03/22/Arab-uprising-infects-immune-Syria/UPI75481300817221/. 10 Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam, Scenic Syrian Seaside City Rocked by Unrest: Government Blames Sunni Cleric For Tensions, OLDS ALBERTAN, Mar. 26, 2011, http://www.oldsalbertan.ca/article/GB/20110326/CP01/303269992/-1/old0806/syria-pullstroops-to-edge-of-restive-city-in-attempt-to-calm-unrest&template=cpArt.

Middle East Unrest: Syria Arrests Damascus Protesters, BBC NEWS, Mar. 16, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12757394.
12 13


See generally March 25 Syrian Protests, NOW LEBANON, Mar. 25, 2011, http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=254495.

See Life in Syria’s Capital Remains Barely Touched by Rebellion, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 5, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/world/middleeast/06damascus.html?pagewanted =1&_r=4&ref=world.

to release political prisoners.15 On March 27, a presidential adviser to al-Assad stated that the emergency military law, in place since 1963 and which suspended constitutional protections for citizens, would be lifted.16 Al-Assad later denied that provision in a speech on March 30, stating that “[s]taying without reforms is destructive to the country,” but refused to give timeframes for those reforms or lifting the emergency military rule.17 His address came one day after the March 29 resignation of the entire Syrian cabinet as an apparent concession to protesters, signaling an attempt by the government to restore its credibility.18 THE MYSTERIOUS “ARMED GROUPS”: A GOVERNMENT-BACKED SCAPEGOAT? However, clashes with protesters continued into April and beyond, becoming even more extensive and violent.19 On April 1, Israeli news reported that at least 10 protesters were killed by Syrian security forces in demonstrations in Douma and Daraa.20 Syrian state media alleged

Syria Releases 260 Prisoners, GULF TODAY, Mar. 27, 2011, http://gulftoday.ae/portal/e5c585a7-1c3f-4322-840a-8e542c917721.aspx.

Syria ‘To Lift Emergency Law’, AL JAZEERA, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/03/201132711553545999.html (Last updated Mar. 27, 2011).

Syria's Assad Warns of 'Conspiracy', AL JAZEERA, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/03/2011330135615434966.html (last updated Mar. 31, 2011, 10:28 AM).

Syrian Cabinet Resigns Amid Unrest, AL JAZEERA, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/03/201132975114399138.html (last updated Mar. 29, 2011).

See, e.g. Neil MacFarquhar & Liam Stack, Thousands Protest in Syrian Cities, Facing Attacks, Residents and Rights Groups Say, N.Y. TIMES, Apr. 2, 2011, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=980DE3DB1030F931A35757C0A9679D8B63.

At Least 10 Killed In Syria, YNETNEWS.COM, Apr. 1, 2011, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4050879,00.html.

that the killings were carried out by rogue and unknown “armed groups” firing upon citizens and security forces.21 However, Human Rights Watch reported on April 5 that these unknown armed groups accused of firing on civilians were identified by protesters as security forces known locally as Shabbiha (from ‘the ghost’) in civilian clothes standing behind the riot police, and carrying the Russian Kalashnikov weapon used primarily by Syrian military/security forces.22 The report states that Syrian officials are attempting to deflect responsibility for the deaths onto some unknown, mysterious armed group of terrorists.23 But the Shabbiha is reported to have been used to provide support as shadow forces against the civilian uprising, backing the Syrian police and military.24 They have also been reported as traveling in unregistered “ghost” vehicles (hence the term), burning crops, looting homes, and killing indiscriminately.25


Salma Abdelaziz, A Day After Protests, Syria Makes Arrests, Hunts for 'Armed Group’, CNN, Apr. 2, 2011, http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/04/02/syria.unrest/index.html?iref=allsearch.

Syria: Stop Shooting Protesters, HUM. RTS. WATCH, Apr. 5, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/05/syria-stop-shooting-protesters [hereinafter Syria, HRW]; Hassan Hassan, Syrian Regime Has Raised ‘Ghosts’ That Will Not Go Away, NATIONAL, June 7, 2011, http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/syrian-regime-has-raisedghosts-that-will-not-go-away.
23 24

Syria, HRW, supra, note 16.

Syria Forces Storm Border Town—Witnesses, EURONEWS.COM, June 19, 2011, http://www.euronews.net/2011/06/19/syria-forces-storm-border-town-witnesses/.

See Esther Adorno, The Two Homs, HARPER’S MAGAZINE, June 8, 2011, http://harpers.org/archive/2011/06/hbc-90008111.

MEDIA EXPULSION AND RISE OF CIVILIAN REPORTING The April 1st deaths brought the demonstrator and bystander death toll up to 100, according to Syrian human rights watch groups.26 By this time, Syria had ignominiously

expelled or was in the process of expelling most independent media, which severely sequestered accurate information regarding the violent responses to protests and resulting human rights abuses.27 As the protests continued, largely peaceful and marked by speeches, chants, and marches—as evidenced by the many home videos posted on blogs, YouTube, and media reports—the Syrian government’s suppression of the protests escalated in frequency and violence. In an apparent concession to the protesters, on April 19, the al-Assad administration lifted the emergency law that had been in place for nearly 50 years.28 However, al-Assad also stated that the removal of the state of emergency meant that protestors would have no further reason to take to the streets, and he described any further protests as sabotage which would not be tolerated.29 On its face, the concession suggested that al-Assad was seeking local harmony and international legitimacy. However, it was insincere at its inception, and the Syrian army,
26 27

Neil MacFarquhar & Liam Stack, supra note 12.

See Arab League Plan Fails to Calm Syria Violence, 5PM BAHRAIN, Nov. 4, 2011, http://www.5pmbahrain.com/2011/11/04/arab-league-plan-fails-to-calm-syria-violence/; Silencing Global Coverage, Syria Detains, Expels Reporters, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS, July 14, 2011, https://cpj.org/2011/07/silencing-global-coverage-syria-detainsexpels-rep.php.

Syria to Lift Decades-Old Emergency Law, AL JAZEERA, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/04/2011419135036463804.html (last updated Apr. 19, 2011).

Zeina Karam, Assad Says Syria To Lift Emergency Law, MSNBC, Apr. 16, 2011, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42622415/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/assad-says-syrialift-emergency-law/.

backed by tanks and snipers, continued their deadly raids and suppression. On April 22, over 100 protesters were reportedly killed in Homs, Izraa ( or Ezraa), Douma, and Maadamiya.30 During the funerals for those victims that followed, at least 12 more were mercilessly and surreptitiously attacked and killed.31 Just seven days later, on April 29, after the Syrian

government again slaughtered its own people during peaceful protests,32 the United States responded with harsh sanctions.33 Civilians reported the April killings as having been carried out by uniformed Syrian security and military forces, as well as men in civilian clothes carrying Kalashnikov rifles. Syrian media defended the action in Izraa that led to 18 deaths, claiming an armed group stormed the center of town in cars and on motorcycles and attacked the guards and indiscriminately fired upon civilians.34 Protesters who were present that day deny that occurrence35, suggesting the state media was not reporting the truth. By the beginning of May, Reuters reported that at least

See Syria Live Blog, AL JAZEERA BLOGS (Apr. 22, 201), http://blogs.aljazeera.net/live/middleeast/syria-live-blog-april-23; Great Friday Martyrs 22-4-2011, SYRIAN REVOLUTION MARTYR DATABASE, Apr. 22, 2011, https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key= 0AnEAHDXD4_A0dENodzk5Y0ZSc2lGbnNqQVVYVlluMlE#gid=0.
31 32

See id.

Scores Killed on Syria’s ‘Day of Rage’, AL JAZEERA, Apr. 29, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/04/201142993412242172.html.

Mark Hosenball & Matt Spetalnick, U.S. Slaps New Sanctions on Syria Over Crackdown, RUETERS, Apr. 29, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/29/us-syria-usa-sanctionsidUSTRE73S4PP20110429.

Bassem Mroue & Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Dozens Killed in Bloodiest Day of Uprising in Syria, ABC NEWS, Apr. 22, 2011, http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=13434987#.T4YrmGLwv2U.

Mass Arrests of Protesters in Several Syrian Cities, IRISH TIMES, May 3, 2011, http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2011/0503/1224295913603.html.

560 civilians had been killed since March 18, noting that Syrian authorities put the death toll at less than 150, claiming half of the deaths were Syrian security forces.36 THE “ARMED GROUPS” CONTINUE ONSLAUGHT Amnesty International reported that by May 3, at least eighty members of Syria’s security force had been killed by the “armed terrorist groups.”37 However, these “armed terrorist groups” have caused speculation into their source and motive, especially when televised confessions from these alleged terrorists were broadcast on Syrian state television.38 The al-Assad government claims the groups are violent Sunni rebels who attacked the military and security forces, provoking a defensive response by those forces, and who seek to further divide and weaken the nation. On May 9, the New York Times reported the emergence of some armed resistance, stating that while some of the protesters have resorted to arms, those represented a minority of the resistance.39 Further reports suggested, and civilian eyewitnesses confirmed, that the Syrian security forces were actually divided, and that within those ranks were forces that were willing to crackdown violently on the nonviolent protests and demonstrations and those who were not


Alistair Lyon, Analysis: Syria to Pursue Crackdown Undeterred by Sanctions, REUTERS, May 6, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/07/us-syria-pressureidUSTRE7451T420110507.

Press Release, Amnesty Int’l, Syrians Tell of Torture in Detention Amid Mass Arrests (May 3, 2011), available at http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/syrians-tell-torturedetention-amid-mass-arrests-2011-05-03.

Syrian TV Televised Confessions of Terrorist Cell, DAYPRESS NEWS, May 21, 2011, http://www.dp-news.com/en/detail.aspx?articleid=84454.

Anthony Shadid, Syria Proclaims It Now Has Upper Hand Over Uprising, N.Y. TIMES, May 9, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/10/world/middleeast/10syria.html?scp=128&sq=syria&st=cse.

willing to do that.40 This division between the al-Assad loyalists, those who were willing to fire upon unarmed and peaceful protesters, and those forces who refused to fire upon demonstrators, is reported to be the reason behind many of the security deaths: those who defy orders to kill demonstrators are, in turn, killed.41 MASS ARRESTS AND TORTURE CONTINUE, INCLUDING CHILDREN The attacks and abuses against civilians continued into May 2011, when arrests were made as security forces went door-to-door, breaking into homes and looking for men between 18 and 50 years old, with numbers of up to 8,000 civilians in custody or missing by May 5, according to Wissam Tarif of Insan, a Syrian human rights group.42 The New York Times reported that an Obama administration official estimated the arrests since the April 22 protests at between 2,000 and 4,000, and Mr. Tarif believes the higher number is more accurate.43 Those imprisoned after the arrests are often not heard from again, and countless videos have emerged on blogs and YouTube of Syrian security forces abusing, torturing, and even killing unarmed civilians and detainees, including infants and children.44 Amnesty International responded,

See European Powers Step Up Pressure on Syria, AL JAZEERA, June 8, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/06/2011685648824776.html.

Syria: Defectors Describe Orders to Shoot Unarmed Protesters, HUM. RTS. WATCH, July 9, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/07/09/syria-defectors-describe-orders-shoot-unarmedprotesters.

Anthony Shadid, Syria Arrests Scores in House-to-House Roundup, THE NEW YORK TIMES, May 5, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/world/middleeast/06syria.html?_r=1.
43 44


See, e.g., Muna, Continued Torture in Syria, AMERICAN SYRIANS, http://americansyrians.com/syria/post/Continued-Torture-Syria.aspx; See also, e.g., Syrian Revolution: The River of Blood Is Still Flowing, EGYPTIAN CHRONICLES, Oct. 3, 2011, http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com/2011/10/syrian-revolution-river-of-blood-is.html.

acknowledging the videos and the abuses, and demanding the U.N. Security Council intervene to hold al-Assad accountable.45 The presumption or hope that children would be spared from at least arrest, if not the violence in the streets, has proven to be unfounded. A February 2012 Human Rights Watch report describes the atrocities committed against children with impunity during this time, including detention, torture, and assassination-like shootings both in the streets and in their homes.46 The atrocities shake the conscience, including electroshock torture, detention of the wounded seeking medical care until they die from their wounds, deliberate targeting of innocent children, and use of schools as sniper posts. NO REFUGE, SANCTUARY, OR TREATMENTS AVAILABLE Syria released another 260 prisoners at the end of March 2011 as an apparent concession to the political pressure applied by the uprising,47 but subsequent arrests continued unchecked. Because of the sheer numbers of arrests that continue, schools, hospitals, and stadiums— normally the centerpieces of community life—have been converted to “detention centers” to house prisoners and rebels.48 The local and global outcry for release of those imprisoned by the


Syria: Smuggled video footage points to ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy of security forces, AMNESTY INT’L UK, May 26, 2011, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19481.

Syria: Stop Torture of Children, HUM. RTS. WATCH, Feb. 3, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/02/03/syria-stop-torture-children.

Syria Releases 260 Prisoners, GULF TODAY, Mar. 27, 2011, http://gulftoday.ae/portal/e5c585a7-1c3f-4322-840a-8e542c917721.aspx.

Amnesty Says Patients Tortured in Syrian Hospitals; Activist Says 30,000 Held in Jails, AL ARABIYA, Oct. 25, 2011, http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/10/25/173571.html.

al-Assad forces has continued, but the Syrian security and military forces continue in their assault as firsthand reports of torture of detainees continue to leak out.49 Those hospitals that remain medically functional, and have not been converted into prisons or military barracks, are inadequate in space, staff, and resources to provide care for the victims. Doctors and nurses are not safe treating emergencies in the street, and they have been killed for attempting to help the injured.50 Doctors in the hospitals that have received the wounded report that the operating rooms are full, most victims have been shot in the chest with real bullets (not the rubber bullets typically used to disperse crowds), and that the protesters and civilians are surrounding hospitals in order to prevent the Syrian security forces from entering and arresting the wounded protesters.51 Many doctors are under “unofficial” orders by the secret service/police not to treat the protesters, and those disobeying the do-not-treat orders were also arrested.52 Even acquiring supplies to provide basic first aid is a dangerous gantlet run through security checkpoints and sniper posts. Not all hospitals could be protected by civilians, however, and in Daraa, victims were instead treated in a makeshift emergency room hidden in a mosque to


Horrific Tales of Torture Begin to Leak From Syria, CATHOLIC ONLINE, Aug. 31, 2011, http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=42630.

See Yara Bayoumy & Paul Taylor, Syria Bars Medical Access for Protesters: HRW, REUTERS, Apr. 12, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/12/us-syria-hrw-protestsidUSTRE73B1Y420110412.

Syria Witness: ‘Unprovoked shooting’ at protest in Homs, BBC NEWS, Apr. 19, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13126476.

Syrian Doctors Face Government Wrath, AL JAZEERA, Apr. 26, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/04/2011426124428347695.html.



avoid arrest.53 Because the mosque was full of protesters avoiding arrest, it was stormed by security forces, resulting in more deaths, including a doctor who was trying to save lives and an innocent 12-year-old girl.54 Of the civilian detainees, several allegedly confessed to belonging to the “armed terrorist group.” Their confessions aired on Syrian state television beginning in mid-April and continued over the following months.55 Some confessors claimed they received foreign funding and had a desire to capture and rape women, to steal weapons, and to exploit the protests in order to destabilize the government and diminish its legitimacy.56 Some confessors claimed to be funded from Lebanese sources,57 and others claimed to be funded from Saudi Arabian sources.58 The response to the taped confessions and their broadcast on Syrian state media outlets has been largely skeptical. Human Rights Watch has interviewed many detainees who describe being


See Bassem Mroue, Fifteen Dead in New Clashes in Southern Syria City, MSNBC, Mar. 23, 2011, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42234154/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/dead-newclashes-southern-syria-city/.
54 55


Syria blames ‘terrorist group’ for violence in southern city, MONSTERS & CRITICS, May 8, 2011, http://news.monstersandcritics.com/middleeast/news/article_1637761.php/Syria-blamesterrorist-group-for-violence-in-southern-city.
56 57


Lauren Williams, Syria’s Day of Slaughter, DAILY BEAST, Apr. 22, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/04/22/syria-protests-over-50-killed-on-blackfriday.html.

See Syrian TV Broadcasts Confessions of Terrorist Group in Daraa, SANA, May 8, 2011, http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/05/08/345421.htm.

tortured until “confessing” and signing a paper, unsure of what they were signing because they were often blindfolded and usually tortured into signing.59 REFERRAL TO THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL AND THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT The continued assaults, killings, and indiscriminate firing of live rounds into crowds prompted the International Committee of Jurists to call for Syria’s referral to the United Nations Security Council and International Criminal Court (ICC).60 The growing frustration with the lack of response from the ICC to the abuses in Syria was further exacerbated by the ICC’s rapid response in the case of Libya where, after only three weeks into that country’s similar uprising and resulting abuses, a formal investigation was opened and arrest warrants were quickly issued.61 So the following question has arisen: why was the response so rapid in Libya, with

the United States and Europe attacking Tripoli with bombs, but so slow and protracted in Syria, with the United States and Europe only attacking Damascus with words? Moises Naim from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace suggested five reasons for the delayed response.62 First, Syria’s military is/was far stronger than Libya’s

Syria: Rampant Torture of Protesters, HUM. RTS. WATCH, Apr. 16, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/15/syria-rampant-torture-protesters.

Adrian Blomfield, Syria: President Bashar al-Assad Faces indictment by the International Criminal Court, TELEGRAPH, Apr. 24, 2011, http://www/telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/8471338/Syria-President-Basharal-Assad-faces-indictment-by-the-International-Criminal-Court.html.

Dan Murphy, The Real Question on Syria: Why No War Crimes Indictments Yet? CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, Aug. 12, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2011/0812/The-real-question-on-Syria-Whyno-war-crimes-indictments-yet.

Moises Naim, Why Libya, But Not Syria?, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INT’L PEACE, May 18, 2011, http://www.carnegieendowment.org/2011/05/18/why-libya-but-not-syria/222.

military. Second, war fatigue in the Libyan uprising conflict may have exhausted the little appetite left in the United States and Europe to engage in wars which are not justified by clear threats to their own national interests.63 Third, Libya has Egypt and Tunisia for neighbors, the “jewels” of the Arab Spring, but Syria borders a more volatile mixture of neighboring countries: Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey.64 Fourth, Libya had no real allies, and the Arab League quickly supported the no-fly zone in Libya.65 However, Assad has more powerful allies in and around the region, including Iran (ergo, Hamas and Hezbollah). In fact, the Assad wife was even featured in a glowing story in February 2011 in Vogue Magazine as a glamorous, chic, and fresh first lady.66 Finally, the opposition and demonstrators had not, by that point, become organized enough to produce an individual or group of individuals around whom support can be rallied.67 The sweeping and indiscriminate nature of Assad’s suppression and attacks has left the civilian protesters with little opportunity to organize anything more than the next protest or march.68 So they marched on, without meaningful international support. DESPITE NO INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE, CIVILIANS PERSEVERE Remaining undeterred in their resolve to have their voices heard and committed to the well-being of their fellow civilians in Daraa, protesters peacefully came from the towns
63 64 65 66

Id. Id. Id.

Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert, VOGUE MAGAZINE, Feb. 25, 2011, available at http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=8512&cp=all.
67 68

Naim, supra, note 54. Id.


surrounding Daraa. They carried bread, milk, and medicines for their fellow countrymen.69 The army and security forces opened fire on the crowds, ambushing them and indiscriminately firing upon the unarmed and peaceful civilians as they marched.70 The snipers shot anything that moved, appearing to aim at the heads and chests of their victims, killing more than 40 people (including women and children) in one single ambush.71 More than 120 civilians were killed in just two days of violence, as security forces fired upon mourners and protesters, bringing the total up to a snowballing 300 people since the uprising began.72 By early May, the town of Baniyas was invaded by Assad forces and split into two regions, with protesters controlling the south and security forces controlling the north. Demonstrations by the peaceful protesters led to a hostile military response and 30 deaths on May 6, with the government again alleging the “armed terrorist groups” killed 11 soldiers.73 More violent suppression occurred throughout the month, and on May 25, the Syrian government returned a thirteen-year-old boy’s body to his family showing tragic evidence of brutal torture.74 The victim, Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, was originally arrested with his family during a roundup on

Human Rights Council 17/2, Rep. of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, 17th Sess., Nov. 23, 2011, U.N. GAOR, Supp. No. 2, A/HRC/S-17/2, at 10-11 (Nov. 23, 2011).
70 71 72

Id. Id.

Syria Death Toll 120 In 2 Days, ARAB TIMES, Apr. 23, 2012, http://www.arabtimesonline.com/RSS/tabid/69/smid/414/ArticleID/168342/t/Syria-death-toll120-in-2-days/Default.aspx.

Syria Mourns 11 Soldiers Killed by ‘Armed Groups’: SANA, PEOPLE’S DAILY ONLINE, May 8, 2011, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90777/90854/7372876.html.

The True Story of Hamza al-Khateeb’s Death Belies Media Fabrications, SYRIAN ARAB NEWS AGENCY, June 1, 2011, http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/06/01/350065.htm.

April 29, and his whereabouts and condition were not known until his body was returned.75 A video of Hamza’s corpse was posted on YouTube, and his story spread like wildfire. His body showed evidence of repeated cigarette burns and electrocution, he had been shot through the head and both arms, his neck was broken, and his genitals were cut off. 76 The government’s physicians denied torture, and they alleged that the signs of disfigurement resulted from necrotic decay.77 The protesters responded with disbelief at the government’s explanation, and the photos, video, and story of al-Khateeb resulted in international outrage78, becoming a rallying cry for protesters as they called for “Children’s Friday” to honor the dozens of children killed in the protests.79 To prevent protesters from further organizing, the Syrian government responded by shutting down Internet access into their country.80 SEXUAL VIOLENCE USED AS A WEAPON OF TERROR In June, reports emerged of Syrian soldiers and security forces using rape as a weapon of terrorism,81 and the international response was immediate. As witnesses and victims emerged to
75 76 77 78

Id. Id. Id.

Children Are Among Casualties of Syrian Military Raids After Demonstrations, N.Y. TIMES, June 1, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/02/world/middleeast/02syria.html.

Syrian Activists Call For ‘Children’s Friday’ Protests, WORLD BULLETIN, June 2, 2011, http://www.worldbulletin.net/?aType=haberYazdir&ArticleID=74591&tip.

Syria internet services shut down as protesters fill streets, WASH. POST, June 3, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/syria-internet-services-shut-down-asprotesters-fill-streets/2011/06/03/AGtLwxHH_blog.html.

Storied of Mass Rape: Sifting Through Rumor and Taboo in Syria, TIME, June 20, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2078622,00.html.

tell of rape by Syrian forces, organizations of Syrian men emerged to show support for the victims and vowed to marry them, defying tradition.82 However, by September the Globe and Mail newspaper reported that many rape allegations could not be confirmed, and that even human rights organizations have refrained from accusing Syrian authorities of these types of attacks because most named victims of the suppression have been men and boys.83 Although accurate reporting has been hindered by the exclusion and suppression of the media, videos and blog posts sneak out onto the Internet from within Syria. These posts and videos tell the stories and take us firsthand into the violent suppression of peaceful citizens. They give voices and faces to the victims of rape and abuse, such as Um Abdullah (Abdullah’s mother), whose home was stormed and who was repeatedly tortured and gang raped by five armed security officers while her young son Abdullah was abused and threatened.84 HOBSON’S CHOICE TO ATTEMPT BORDER CROSSING Also in June, the Syrian government said that over twenty protesters were killed in the Golan Heights by Israeli forces as they were allegedly trying to cross the cease-fire line during Naksa Day demonstrations.85 Syria is home to Palestinian refugees, who came in two major waves in 1948 and 1967 during the Palestinian exoduses, and two smaller waves in 1982 and

IIn Syria, An Unlikely Tactic to Protest Rape, SALON.COM, June 22, 2011, http://www.salon.com/2011/06/22/syria_marriage_rape/.

Syria Using Rape as a Weapon, Activists Say, THE GLOBE & MAIL, Sept. 28, 2011, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/africa-mideast/syria-using-rape-as-a-weaponactivists-say/article2183968/.

John Mak, Syrian Regime Gang Raping Women, AMERICAN SYRIANS, http://americansyrians.com/syria/post/Syrian-Regime-Gang-Raping-Women.aspx.

Israeli Soldiers Shoot at Protesters on Syrian Border, N.Y. TIMES, June 5, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/world/middleeast/06mideast.html?pagewanted=all.

1991.86 The border at Golan Heights has been strongly defended by Israel thereafter, and Israeli Defense Forces had allegedly warned protesters not to cross into Israel territory.87 However, the Palestinian-Syrians ignored the warning and, desperate to escape the bloodshed in their villages and towns, crossed into the landmine-dotted border zone.88 Israeli Defense Forces fired their weapons upon the invasion of refugees after repeated warnings, and several landmines were detonated during the attempted exodus.89 An Israeli official stated that this was not only allowed by the Syrian government, but that the Syrian government encouraged the encroachment as a distraction from its own domestic problems, and as a way to blame some of the violence on either Israel or the unruly Syrian protesters.90 Further north, near the Turkish border, the Syrian Army used machinegun fire from helicopters to disperse and suppress the protesters assembling in Jisr al-Shugar and Maarat alNuman, claiming the towns were the site of mass graves of Syrian security personnel killed during the uprising.91 However, the proximity to the Turkish border and the reports of Syrian refugees fleeing across the border supports the suggestion of at least some type of exodus from

Rachel M. Rudolph, Syria’s Palestinian Refugees, JOURNAL OF PALESTINIAN REFUGEE STUDIES, Feb. 9, 2011, http://palestinianrefugeestudies.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/syria/.

See Israel Blames Syria For Deaths of Golan Heights Protesters, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, June 7, 2011, http://www.smh.com.au/world/israel-blames-syria-for-deaths-of-golan-heightsprotesters-20110606-1fpdc.html.
88 89 90 91

See id. Id. Id.

Syrian Army Reports Finding Mass Grave, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, June 15, 2011, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/06/15/Syrian-army-reports-finding-massgrave/UPI-20861308154987/?spt=hs&or=tn.

Syria. The Syrian army justified the attacks on the people as operations to rid the region of the alleged "armed gangs.”92 However, local citizens and witnesses claim that the deaths of those Syrian troops and officers, which provided the alleged motive for the “operations,” were actually executions resulting from their refusal to fire on protesters while terrified locals and residents fled for the Turkish border.93 Further south, in Dara’a, the military and security forces had cut off food, water, and electricity supplies within the city since mid-April, leavings civilians with shortages in nearly everything and, while terrified of snipers, risking their lives for basic needs out of sheer desperation.94 Time Magazine shared a story of an undercover journalist who managed to get into Syria on a tourist visa and was soon ordered to leave, only after discovering “famine-like” conditions on the ground in Dara’a, with thousands of screams for milk and water silenced and muffled by bursts of gunfire.95 AL-ASSAD’S UNRELENTING PRESSURE TO SILENCE PROTESTS By the end of June, President al-Assad delivered a speech promising greater freedoms, movement toward reform, and new parliamentary elections.96 He urged protesters to remain peaceful and refugees to return home from Turkey, while assuring them amnesty. His speech

Syria Town of Jisr al-Shughar Braces for Army Assault, BRITISH BROADCASTING COMPANY, June 7, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13678105.

European Powers Step Up Pressure On Syria, AL JAZEERA, June 8, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/06/2011685648824776.html.

Assad’s Forces Pound City at Center of Syrian Revolt, N.Y. TIMES, Apr. 27, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/28/world/middleeast/28daraa.html?pagewanted=all.

Inside Syria’s Slaughter: A Journalist Sneaks into Dara’a, the Ghetto of Death, TIME, June 10, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2076778,00.html.

Assad Blames Unrest on Saboteurs, Pledges Reforms, REUTERS, June 20, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/20/us-syria-idUSTRE75J0AV20110620.

attributed the violence to a small number of rebels and "saboteurs," and was largely dismissed by protesters and perceived internationally as a signal of his declining legitimacy.97 By mid-July, pro-Assad/pro-government counter-protesters had attacked the United States and French embassies in Damascus in retaliation for their support of the protesters.98 As the protesters became more organized and unified in their response to oppressive attacks from the pro-Assad Syrian Army and security forces, the Free Syrian Army emerged as the main opposition army group, composed largely of Syrian Army defectors who otherwise might have been killed for defection.99 On July 31, after another month of bloody and violent suppression by the Syrian government, Syrian forces stepped up their attacks on demonstrators by using tanks, snipers, and heavy artillery such as machineguns and 500 mm guns instead of the usual Kalishnikov weapon carried by the security forces.100 While the Syrian forces plowed through, the protesters stood their ground, built makeshift barricades, and defended their homes and towns with whatever they could muster—usually sticks, bats, and rocks.101 But the Syrian Army and security forces mercilessly pressed through the helpless and sorely overpowered masses, killing

97 98


Syria: Assad Supporters Attack U.S. and French Embassies, BRITISH BROADCASTING COMPANY, July 11, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14111198.

Free Syrian Army Founded by Seven Officers to Fight the Syrian Army, SYRIA COMMENT, July 29, 2011, http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=11043; Defecting Troops Form ‘Free Syrian Army,’ Target Assad Security Forces, WORLD TRIBUNE, August 3, 2011, http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2011/me_syria0973_08_03.asp.

Syrian Regime Tanks Return to Hama, THE GUARDIAN, July 31, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/31/syrian-regime-tanks-return-hama.

Syrian Deaths Escalate as Assad Forces Pursue Protesters, AL ARABIYA NEWS, July 31, 2011, http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/07/31/160188.html.

up to 200 more people, many in Hama, and injuring scores more.102 Despite being the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, activists and protesters said it was one of the deadliest days since the March onset of active protests.103 AL-ASSAD USES GUNBOATS WITH IMPUNITY DURING HOLY MONTH By early August and during the holy month of Ramadan, several neighboring Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, and other members of the 22-nation bloc Arab League, spoke out to condemn Syria and its response to the protests.104 Even Iran, no bastion of freedom or vox populi, called on Syrian leaders to peacefully respond to the “legitimate demands” of the people.105 Assad admitted that the Syrians had “legitimate claims,” but blamed those “armed groups” for the government’s intense and bloody response.106 However, the Syrian government would not buckle to international pressure, engaging its naval fleet to suppress the uprising, using gunboats at Latakia against protesters while military troops and security forces

102 103


Syrian Army Kills 100 in Hama Crackdown, Sources Say, N.Y. POST , July 31, 2011, http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/syrian_army_kills_in_hama_crackdown_ao8 umwIQXrcQWW0H1GwAJL.

Liz Sly, Syria Steps Up Assaults on Protesters, Drawing First Arab League Condemnation, WASH. POST, Aug. 7, 2011, at A02, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syria-launches-new-attack-against-protesters-in-eastarab-league-condemns-assault/2011/08/07/gIQAMmKS0I_story.html.

Nada Bakri, Iran Calls on Syria to Recognize Citizens’ Demands, N.Y. TIMES, Aug. 27, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/28/world/middleeast/28syria.html?_r=3.

Syria’s Assad Talks of People’s Legitimate Demands, NOW LEBANON, June 27, 2011, http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArchiveDetails.aspx?ID=286149.

stormed neighborhoods.107 Reuters reported another 26 dead in Latakia, bringing the total civilians killed to 2000 since the uprising began in March.108 The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation called for an immediate halt to the use of the military campaign against the civilian protesters.109 Assad remained defiant, blaming a foreign conspiracy to divide his nation and an internal group of armed terrorists bent on engaging his military and preventing peaceful conclusion of the protests. As the Siege of Latakia continued, more civilians were killed as security forces and militia continued firing at demonstrators and civilians: The Syrian National Organization for Human Rights reported at least another 46 killed, including a little girl just twoyears-old.110 This helpless child from Al Ladhiqiyah was shot at point-blank range by an officer who affirmed that he did not want her to grow up to be a protester.111 Two days later, a 15-year old boy returning home from prayers at the mosque was also shot.112 His neighbors tried to take him to the hospital, but security checkpoints blocked his access.113 Fortunately, he survived to be interviewed by UN human rights investigators.114


Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Tank, Navy Attack on Syria’s Latakia Kills 26: Witnesses, REUTERS, Aug. 14, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/14/us-syria-idUSTRE77D0LP20110814.
108 109

Id. Islamic Body Urges Syria to Stop ‘Excessive Force’ Against Civilians, AL ARABIYA NEWS, Nov. 30, 2011, http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/11/30/180141.html.
110 111

Oweis, Tank, supra, note 101.

See id.; Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Human Rights Council, 17th Spec. Sess. at 14, Nov. 23, 2011, A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1.

Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Human Rights Council, 17th Spec. Sess. at 14, Nov. 23, 2011, A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1.
113 114

Id. Id.


HEZBOLLAH’S SUPPORT AND ANTI-ISRAEL THREATS In August, the militant Hezbollah restated support of al-Assad’s regime, and by October, the Jerusalem Post reported that President al-Assad threatened a Hezbollah missile retaliation against Israel if NATO attacked Syria.115 Hezbollah and its leader issued statements in May in support of al-Assad and the Syrian regime, asserting that if Assad is deposed, Hezbollah is believed to be at great risk for loss, both in money from Syria and weapons shipments from Iran.116 In an appearance of conciliation, President al-Assad claimed, in a telephone

conversation on August 17 with the U.N. Secretary General, that “military and policing operations had stopped.”117 However, on August 24, Human Rights Watch reported that at least 49 people (including children) died the day of that phone call and in the following few days in protests.118 Even United States President Obama called, for the first time, for President Assad to resign office,119 showing a growing international impatience and frustration with the chaos and brutality engulfing Syria.


‘If NATO Attacks Syria, We’ll Fire Missiles at Tel Aviv,’ THE JERUSALEM POST, Oct. 4, 2011, http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=240519.

Zeina Karam, Hezbollah Supports Syria Leader Bashar Assad, THE HUFFINGTON POST, MAY 25, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/25/hezbollah-syria-basharassad_n_867032.html.

Bashar al-Assad Claims Military Operations in Syria Have Stopped, THE GUARDIAN, Aug. 18, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/18/syria-assad-claims-military-operationsstopped.

Syria’s Human Rights Crisis: Myths and Realities, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, Aug. 24, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/08/24/syria-s-human-rights-crisis-myths-and-realities.

Sam Youngman & Ian Swanson, Obama Condemns ‘Slaughter,’ Calls on Syria’s President Assad to Resign, HILL, Aug. 18, 2011, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/177325obama-calls-on-syrian-president-assad-to-resign.

THE PROTESTS ORGANIZE UNDER COMMON GOALS: LEADERS IDENTIFIED AND KILLED At about the same time, the deeply fragmented groups of protesters around the country consolidated their efforts and organized the opposition councils, which had been developing since the Arab Spring broke out. On August 23, while meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, the Syrian dissidents formed a national council consisting of members from all Syrian opposition groups, many in exile.120 The council was modeled after the similar National Transitional Council formed in Libya during its protests and transition.121 On September 15, the council revealed the names of at least 70 of its national council members and leadership.122 On October 2, the council formally declared itself as the Syrian National Council (SNC) and announced its founding statement, organizational affiliations, and structure.123 Across the border and back in Syria, the clashes continued. In a report by the BBC News, the United Nations claimed the death toll reached beyond 3000, and the nation was on the verge of civil war.124 While Damascus and Aleppo had remained relatively free of anti-Assad

demonstrations and their subsequent suppression, they had remained strongholds of pro-


See Ipek Yezdani, Syrian Dissidents Form National Council, EDMOND SUN, Aug. 24, 2011, http://www.edmondsun.com/news_tab3/x2122765173/Syrian-dissidents-form-national-council.
121 122

See id.

Syria Opposition Launches National Council in Istanbul, TODAY’S ZAMAN, Oct. 2, 2011, http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?load=detay&newsId=258614&li nk=258614.
123 124


Syria Uprising: UN Says Protest Death Toll Hits 3,000, BBC NEWS, Oct. 14, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15304741.

government and pro-Assad loyalists.125 International leaders called on Assad to step down or to at least institute reforms. However, Assad’s military and security forces maintained their intense and violent pressure on the civilians in the ongoing effort to maintain Assad’s legitimacy despite the growing and more organized opposition. On October 7, masked gunmen shot dead SNC opposition figure Mishaal al-Tammo after forcing their way into his apartment in Homs.126 At his funeral the next day, at least fourteen more people were killed when security forces opened fire on the mourners127, suggesting the Syrian authorities feared that al-Tammo and his death— and possibly the SNC in general—could prompt further uprisings against Assad’s regime.128 The United States State Department blamed Syrian authorities for the assassination, but the official Syrian media reported that he had been killed by “armed terrorist groups” because of his opposition to foreign intervention in Syria.129 As the reign of fire continued against the peaceful protesters, the defectors from the military and security took with them automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).130 This provided some defense and protection to the overwhelmed yet persistent protesters and

Life in Syria’s Capital Remains Barely Touched by Rebellion, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 5, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/world/middleeast/06damascus.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2.

Syria Security Forces ‘Open Fire at Kurd’s Funeral.’ BBC News, Oct. 8, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15227172. Retrieved 2/28/2012.
127 128

Id. Emanuelle Degli Esposti, Mishaal al-Tammo Killing: High-profile Assassinations and Attempts in 2011, INT’L BUS. TIMES, Oct. 10, 2011, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/228130/20111010/mishaal-al-tammo-killing-high-profileassassinations-and-attempts-in-2011-middle-east-pakistan-afghanistan.htm.
129 130

Syria Security Forces ‘Open Fire at Kurd’s Funeral,’ supra note 93.

Free Syrian Army Soldier: “We Lack Weapons,” FRANCE 24, Nov. 18, 2011, http://observers.france24.com/content/20111118-free-syrian-army-soldier-lack-weapons-homsarmy-defectors-bashar-al-assad-syrian-national-council.

further armed the Free Syrian Army (FSA); however, it also fueled pro-Assad loyalists and violent confrontations with dissidents, who appear to have been consistently on the wrong end of the guns. As Damascus remained under Assad control and devotion, the FSA mounted a daring attack against the Air Force Intelligence headquarters just outside the city131 in its most highprofile attack since the protests began in January. Unfortunately, the strike represents a new escalation in the conflict, as the previously peaceful protesters could now be assaulted harder and more furiously to crush the odds of an armed response against Assad’s forces. DEATH TOLL CONTINUES TO EXPLODE DESPITE INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE Internationally, the United Nations Security Council resolution, which threatened further sanctions against Syria, was vetoed by Russia and China, and the Arab League suspended Syria from its 22-member organization for failing to abide by a peace plan that it had originally accepted and agreed to.132 Syria called the suspension illegal and a product of United States pressure, but agreed to allow Arab observers into the country,133 but requested amendments to the Arab League plan including canceling economic sanctions.134 The Arab League responded by rejecting Syria’s demands to alter the peace plan, suggesting the changes would radically alter

Syria Defectors ‘Attack Military Base in Harasta,’ BBC NEWS, Nov. 16, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15752058.

George Baghdadi, Arab League Rejects Syria Peace Plan Changes, CBS NEWS, Nov. 20, 2011, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-57328287-503543/arab-league-rejects-syriapeace-plan-changes/.
133 134


Albert Aji & Zeina Karam, Syria Agrees to Arab Observers Under Conditions, BOSTON GLOBE, Dec. 5, 2011, http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2011/12/05/in_show_of_force_syrian_re gime_holds_war_games/.

the nature of the plan.135 On November 2, Syria dropped its objections and agreed to the peace plan.136 However, while Syria stated that it had released more than 550 prisoners who had been arrested during protests, thousands remain imprisoned, and violent clashes continued unabated.137 Less than a week after the signing, more than 60 people were reportedly killed by Assad’s military and security forces in Syria, bringing the death toll to 3,500, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.138 The United Nations expressed concern that Syria was descending into a Libyan-style civil war, as more and more Syrian soldiers continued to defect to the opposition.139 In abject defiance of the agreed upon plan, Assad continued his crackdown, and his forces killed more than 70 people on November 15, in what observers reported as one of the bloodiest days of the uprising.140 Increasing anger over Damascus’ international isolation along with Assad loyalty prompted his supporters to storm the Jordanian embassy in Damascus after

Tunde Ayankunle, Arab League Rejects Syrian Demand to Change Peace Plan, NATION, Nov. 21, 2011, http://www.thenationonlineng.net/2011/index.php/news/26987-arab-leaguerejects-syrian-demand-to-change-peace-plan.html.

Elizabeth Arrott, Syria Agrees to Arab League Peace Plan, VOICE OF AMERICA, Nov. 2, 2011, http://www.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/9-Killed-Central-Syria-Violence133061933.html.

Seven Killed as Syria Releases Over 550 Prisoners, TIMES OF MALTA, Nov.6, 2011, http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20111106/world/Seven-killed-as-Syria-releasesover-550-prisoners.392572

Syrian Crackdown Death Toll Tops 3,500: UN, KHALEEJ TIMES, Nov. 8, 2011, http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle09.asp?xfile=data/middleeast/2011/November/midd leeast_November192.xml&section=middleeast.

UN: More Syrian Soldiers Defect to Opposition, AL JAZEERA, Nov. 9, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2011/11/2011119181655111178.html.

Nada Bakri and Rick Gladstone, Syria Faces New Threats as Opposition Seeks Allies, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Nov. 15, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/16/world/middleeast/deathtoll-mounts-in-syria-along-with-outside-pressure.html?_r=1.

King Abdullah called for the Syrian president to step down.141 King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to publicly call for Assad to step down, and Jordan has hosted thousands of civilians fleeing the Syrian violence.142 In an effort to prevent the escape of refugees, Syria is reported to have laid landmines near its borders and along routes used by civilians, many of whom are women and children.143 The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership, and by the end of November, the most deadly and bloodiest month since the protests began, the United Nation’s human rights official reported the death toll at more than 4,000.144 The exploding number of deaths are explained by a panel of independent experts, who report that government forces were given “shoot to kill” orders to crush demonstrations.145 Human Rights Watch released a report identifying 74 commanders and officials behind the orders, who allegedly directed widespread killings, rape, torture, and illegal arrests.146 As a consequence of those types of orders, defections from the Syrian military and security forces


Gabe Kahn, 70+ Killed as Syria Violence Escalates, ISRAEL NATIONAL NEWS, Nov. 16, 2011, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/149803#.T4t3f4JOSSo.

Taylor Luck, Gunfire Erupts on Border with Syria, JORDAN TIMES, Feb. 14, 2012, http://jordantimes.com/gunfire-erupts-on-border-with-syria.

Syria Laying Landmines Along Border, TRANGO NEWS, Mar. 13, 2012, http://www.trangonews.com/n/Syria_laying_landmines_along_border/10447.aspx.

Bassem Mroue, Syria: November Deadliest Month in Uprising, HUFFINGTON POST, Dec. 3, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/03/syria-november-deadliest_n_1126986.html.

Syria: UN Report Says Forces Committed “Crimes Against Humanity,” HUFFINGTON POST, Nov. 28, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/28/syria-un-report-saysforc_n_1116410.html.

Elizabeth A. Kennedy, HRW: Syrian Commanders Had “Shoot-to-Kill” Orders, SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, Dec. 14, 2011, http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2011/dec/14/hrw-syriancommanders-had-shoot-to-kill-orders/?ap.

continued, but those defectors were severely beaten, tortured, and killed when discovered.147 One defector described his torture to investigators when, after being discovered firing in the air above protesters rather than into the protesters, he was severely beaten every hour for days, and tortured with electroshock.148 SAVAGE INHUMANITY DISCOVERED Unfortunately, what the international community feared, and what the Syrian civilians knew first-hand, continued to unfold. Dozens of bodies were reportedly discovered in Homs, dumped like garbage in the restive city.149 A United Nations independent commission report (noted above) was released, documenting the ghastly torture and killings as reported by hundreds of witnesses and victims.150 It described torture that was applied equally to adults and children, patterns of sexual abuse and torture, including rape of all ages and genders with batons, electroshock and cigarette burns to the genitals and anus, and forced sodomy on young boys as their parents watched helplessly.151 Children were tortured and killed with impunity. A tragic example is the case of Thamir Al Sharee, a 14 year-old boy who was tortured and beaten with a rifle butt in front of his parents—who were also detained—until he was bleeding profusely from

147 148 149

See U.N. GAOR, 17th Sp. Sess. at 13, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1 (Nov. 23, 2011). Id.

Syria Unrest: “Dozens of Bodies Found Dumped” in Homs, BBC NEWS, Dec. 6, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16044458.
150 151

U.N. GAOR, supra note 147, at 8-16. Id., at 14.


his head and crying out for their help before he lost consciousness and died on the floor at the hands of Assad’s forces.152 Despite the frequent barrages of artillery, thousands of dead and missing civilian protesters, and an almost guaranteed tortured detention and death if captured, the Syrian citizens were unrelenting in their demands for legitimate reform. As a concession by Assad in response to the protesters, and perhaps to again feign legitimacy, elections were held for more than 17,000 seats in local administration units on December 12153; however, the Syrian opposition called for a boycott of the elections, and voter turnout was very low despite claims by the Syrian state media of “people flocking to the polls.”154 Citizens were in the streets, however, continuing the protests and holding “mock elections,” having lost faith in Assad’s government but not in their own ability to effect change.155


Id. at 13; Taimur Rabbani, Report on Syrian Crimes Against Humanity Highlights Need for Greater Efforts to Target Enablers of Those Crimes, HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST, Dec. 1, 2011, http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2011/12/01/report-on-syrian-crimes-against-humanityhighlights-need-for-greater-efforts-to-target-enablers-of-those-crimes/.

Daniel Tovrov, Syria’s Elections Show Little Promise for a Troubled Country, INT’L BUS. TIMES, Dec. 12, 2011, http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/265670/20111212/syria-elections-basharassad.htm.

Basma Atassi, Syrian Opposition Calls for Poll Boycott, AL JAZEERA, Dec. 12, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/12/2011121117454234922.html.

Edward Yeranian, Voter Turnout Low in Syria Municipal Elections Amid Protests, VOICE OF AMERICA, Dec. 12, 2011, http://www.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Syrians-to-Votein-Local-Elections-135425173.html.

AL-ASSAD ALLOWS FOREIGN MONITORS Under pressure from international sanctions, Syria relented and allowed Arab League monitors into the country in late December.156 The monitors were supposed to have access to “conflict zones,” as well as Syrian prisons, police stations, and hospitals. Assad’s leaders in Damascus promised to withdraw troops from cities and to release prisoners, while the monitors would keep an eye on both the Syrian military and security forces as well as opposition groups. With a death toll of over 5,000, and Syrian state media alleging 2,000 of those as its own soldiers and officers, the monitoring team’s mission was to uncover the truth and reconcile the conflicting accounts. But with feet barely on the ground, the monitors’ mission was violently interrupted, as two government buildings in Damascus were attacked by alleged suicide bombers, killing more than 40 more people and wounding another 150.157 The selection and location of the buildings was immediately scrutinized, and the opposition expressed skepticism of Syrian state media’s assertions of “terrorist attacks” given the buildings’ tight security, guarded locations, and lack of reaction by state forces.158 SANA (Syrian state media) continued to blame the attack on, and divert responsibility to, outside influences bent on undermining President Assad and his leadership.159

Atrocity Scouts on the Ground in Syria, RT, Dec. 23, 2011, https://rt.com/news/syria-arableague-monitors-485/.

Matthew Weaver & Haroon Siddique, Syria: “Bomb Attacks” in Damascus – Friday 23 December, GUARDIAN, Dec. 23, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-eastlive/2011/dec/23/syria-egypt-yemen-protests-live-updates.
158 159


Martin Chulov and Matthew Weaver, Syria Blames al-Qaida After Two Car Bombs Kill Dozens in Damascus, THE GUARDIAN, Dec. 23, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/23/syria-blames-alqaida-bombsdamascus?newsfeed=true.

Even the selection of the Arab League’s monitors was criticized, with suspicions growing that the reports they provided would not be credible, and that they were complicit in the bloodshed that continued despite their presence.160 The head of the monitoring mission

apparently served as a senior official in the Omar al-Bashir regime in Sudan, which had been accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur.161 Questions also arose as to whether the Syrian government was allowing full access to the monitoring team.162 Regardless of whether the monitoring team had only limited or restricted access, or whether the team and its leadership had full access and were therefore complicit in the persecution of the Syrian protesters, the reign of fire and hail of bullets continued upon the helpless civilians. The monitors were cheered and celebrated when they arrived into towns, as their presence signaled to most residents that—at least as long as the monitoring team was there—the attacks would stop.163 But when the monitors prepared to leave, the desperate and fraught townspeople begged them to stay, knowing that attacks by Assad’s military and security forces would resume once they left.164 Sadly, these civilians were correct;

Hamza Hendawi, Syria Opposition Wants Removal of Chief Monitor, DAILY STAR, Dec. 29, 2011, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2011/Dec-29/158290-syria-oppositionwants-removal-of-chief-monitor.ashx#axzz1qjgN3MfP.

Press Release, Int’l Criminal Court, ICC Prosecutor Presents Case Against Sudanese President, Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, For Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes in Darfur (July 14, 2008), available at http://www.icccpi.int/menus/icc/press%20and%20media/press%20releases/press%20releases%20(2008)/a.

Al Jazeera Blogs, AL-JAZEERA ENGLISH BLOG (Dec. 30, 2011, 5:26 AM), http://blogs.aljazeera.net/liveblog/syria-dec-30-2011-0826.

Nic Robertson, Syria Toll Rises to 25; Monitors Cheered in Besieged Town, CNN, Jan. 16, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/15/world/meast/syria-unrest/index.html.



with tanks parked along the outskirts of towns and “security checkpoints” scattered across the escape routes, Assad’s forces continued to pound away on anyone caught under its iron fist.165 This relentless assault took the lives of almost 70 people in a single day, including a nine-yearold child.166 However, because accurate information is too difficult to obtain, and because of fragmentation on the ground, the United Nations has abandoned its efforts to accurately compile the death toll.167 VICTIMS’ ACCOUNTS OF DEPRAVED TORTURE, INCLUDING CHILDREN By the end of March 2012, a full year since the first peaceful demonstrations and marches congealed into the now organized protests, Assad’s brutal regime has been stained by the blood of the estimated more than 9,000 people who have died there.168 Amnesty International reports the evidence of torture and brutality, even upon very young children and the frail and elderly, has risen to a shocking and nightmarish level unseen for decades.169 The patterns of abuse and methods of torture were described in graphic detail by survivors of Assad’s detention facilities:


Syria Buries Damascus Dead, Promise “Iron Fist,” KHALEEJ TIMES, Jan. 7, 2012, http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle08.asp?xfile=data/middleeast/2012/January/middlee ast_January187.xml&section=middleeast.

66 Killed in Syrian Violence, RTE NEWS, Jan. 30, 2012, http://www.rte.ie/news/2012/0129/syria.html.

UN Unable to Update Syria Death Toll, KHALEEZ TIMES, Jan. 26, 2012, http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle08.asp?xfile=data/middleeast/2012/January/middlee ast_January692.xml&section=middleeast.

Syria: New Report Finds Systemic and Widespread Torture and Ill-Treatment in Detention, AMNESTY INT’L, Mar. 14, 2012, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/syria-new-report-findssystemic-and-widespread-torture-and-ill-treatment-detention-2012-03-13.



• Beatings on all parts of the body, involving punching, slapping and/or kicking; administered with fists, feet, sticks, truncheons, braided cables, whips or butts of Kalashnikov-type weapons • Hair being pulled or pulled out • Cigarettes stubbed out on the body • Flesh gouged by pincers • Dulab [tire], whereby the victim is forced into a vehicle tire which is often then hoisted up and the individual is beaten • Falaqa, beating on the soles of the feet • Bisat al-rih (flying carpet), whereby the victim is strapped face-up onto a foldable wooden board, the two ends of which are moved towards each other causing significant pain to the lower back; during the process, the victim is beaten • Shabeh whereby the victim is hung by manacled wrists, or from a hook or over a door, or occasionally by the feet, often for long periods and usually beaten; sometimes in a stress position where the detainee must keep his toes on the floor • Crucifixion – another form of suspension torture where the victim is tied to a wall or frame with the arms outstretched in a crucifixion position • Stress positions, such as being forced to stand for hours on tip-toe • Exposure to excessive cold, such as being kept outside often only in underwear overnight or for other long periods • Being subjected to sexual violence • Being forced to watch the rape of another detainee



• Being subjected to sights and sounds of torture being inflicted on others, including of friends and family members, and being exposed to killings of torture victims • Electric shocks to parts of the body via an electric prod or other hand instrument • Electric shocks via an electric charge applied to a wet floor • Electric chair: a metal chair with a kind of metal helmet into which the victim is strapped and then an electric current is switched on • “German chair” (al-kursi al-almani): the victim is strapped into a metal chair, the back of which is moved backwards, causing acute stress on the spine and severe pressure on the neck and limbs • Threatening the victim with rape • Threatening the victim that their relatives will be detained, raped or otherwise tortured • Threat of execution • Denigrating the victim’s religious beliefs • Degrading the victim by using obscene language or insults or forcing them to undress in front of others • Being stabbed or cut • Having unpleasant matter, such as salt, forced into the mouth • Being denied adequate medical care • Depriving the victim of fresh air, toilet or washing facilities • Being detained in excessively cramped and overcrowded conditions



• Being held in prolonged solitary confinement • Sharing the cell with a detainee dying – and who then dies – due to denial of medical treatment • Sharing a solitary confinement cell with what seemed to be a human corpse.170 Abuses of children shock the conscience as well, as reports of the horrors suffered continue to unfold. Youssef, just 11-years-old, was shot in the back in his own home while hiding from the gunfire aimed at the neighboring hospital.171 Fatima, a 17-year-old girl, was paralyzed for life when a bullet ripped through her spine while she was in her restroom.172 Ahmed, a 16-year-old boy, spent ten days in solitary confinement, blindfolded and forced to hear the cries of torture victims, wondering if he would also be tortured or if he would even survive.173 Samih, an adult prisoner in one of Latakia’s “security” facilities, reported 15- and 16year old children crammed into tiny spaces with dozens of others, with their fingernails pulled out and having been raped, electrocuted, and beaten.174 He described one boy who was bleeding from behind and couldn’t walk, stating that “it was something they just did to the boys.”175 Fouad, just 13-years-old, was burned with cigarettes and boiling water.176 Hossam, also just 13,

“I WANTED TO DIE”: SYRIA’S TORTURE SURVIVORS SPEAK OUT 12-13 (Amnesty Int’l 2012), available at http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE24/016/2012/en/708c3f40-538e-46a99798-ebae27f56946/mde240162012en.pdf.

Syria: Stop Torture of Children, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, Feb. 3, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/02/03/syria-stop-torture-children [hereinafter Syria, HRW].
172 173 174 175 176

Id. Id. Id. Id. Syria, HRW, supra, note __.


was electrocuted, beaten, and had a toenail removed with pliers.177 Ala’a, a 16-year-old boy, read poetry at demonstrations when he was arrested in May 2011.178 After eight long months of torture, including electroshock, beatings, and the shabeh, he was released when his father bribed a prison guard with 25,000 Syrian pounds (US $436).179 The children are detained in the same facilities as adults and are subjected to similar treatments, although they are frequently subjected to much more severe abuse, including sexual abuse, simply because they are children.180 FINAL IMPRESSION With no apparent end in sight, Syria has within its borders millions more potential targets the Assad forces could arrest, detain, torture, and/or kill. Assad and his military and security forces have shown reckless inhumanity in their cowardly ambushes of peaceful protesters, illegitimacy in their use of terror and deadly force on helpless children, and absolute impunity in their slaughter the innocents. The international community should not stand idle any longer. The harsh imposition of sanctions has failed to convince Assad to lift his iron fist, and only the people in the towns feel the effect of those sanctions. Hungry and cold, without water,

electricity, or medicines, they rely on each other and the hope that the world will hear their cries, will help them, and will bring peace and stability to the Syrian people.

177 178 179 180

Id. Id. Id. Id.


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