SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC: Abductions, torture and summary killings at the hands of armed groups

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8 Jul 2016
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Regional conflict

Armed groups operating in Aleppo, Idleb and surrounding areas in the north of Syria have carried out a chilling wave of abductions, torture and summary killings, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.

The briefing Torture was my punishment’: Abductions, torture and summary killings under armed group rule in Aleppo and Idleb, Syria offers a rare glimpse of what life is really like in areas under the control of armed opposition groups. Some of them are believed to have the support of governments such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the USA despite evidence that they are committing violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war). It also sheds light on the administrative and quasi-judicial institutions set up by armed groups to govern in these areas.

The briefing features abuses committed by five armed groups which have exercised control over parts of the governorates of Aleppo and Idleb since 2012. They include the Nour al-Dine Zinki Movement, al-Shamia Front and Division 16, which joined the Aleppo Conquest coalition of armed groups (also known as Fatah Halab) in 2015. They also include Jabhat al-Nusra and the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement in Idleb, which both joined the Army of Conquest coalition, similarly in 2015.

Some non-state armed groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Shamia Front and the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement have established their own Shari’a (Islamic law) “justice systems” in areas they control, as well setting up unofficial prosecution offices, police forces and detention centres.
They have also appointed judges, some of whom have no knowledge of Shari’a. Some groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement, have applied a strict interpretation of Shari’a and imposed punishments amounting to torture or other ill-treatment for perceived infractions.

Human rights activists, minorities, children targeted

Several of the journalists and media activists working to report on abuses told Amnesty International they were abducted because they had criticized the conduct of armed groups in power. Many were later released, apparently after public pressure on the armed group which had abducted them. In Aleppo, media activists said they received verbal and written threats from the al-Shamia Front and the Nour al-Dine Zinki Movement for criticizing these armed groups or accusing them of corruption on Facebook. Lawyers, political activists and others have also faced reprisal attacks from the al-Shamia Front, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement because of their activities, perceived religious beliefs and political opinions.

Amnesty International also documented the abduction of at least three children – boys aged 14, 15 and 16 - by Jabhat al-Nusra and the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement in Idleb and Aleppo between 2012 and 2015. As of 28 June, two of them remain missing.

Members of the Kurdish minority in Sheikh Maqsoud, a predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood in Aleppo city, were also among those abducted as well as Christian priests targeted on account of their religion.

Summary killings

The briefing also contains evidence of summary killings carried out by Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Shamia Front and their affiliated “courts”, or the Supreme Judicial Council, a body in Aleppo governorate recognized by several armed groups as the sole judicial authority there.

Among those killed have been civilians, including a 17-year-old boy accused of being gay and a woman accused of adultery, as well as captured members of Syrian government forces, of pro-government shabiha  militias, and of the armed group calling itself Islamic State and other rival groups. In some cases armed groups carried out summary killings in front of crowds. The deliberate killing of people held in captivity is prohibited by international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime.

Over the past five years, Amnesty International has extensively documented war crimes and crimes against humanity on a mass scale committed by Syrian government forces. The organization has also documented serious violations, including war crimes, by the group calling itself Islamic State and other armed groups.

“It is critical that Russia and the USA, and the UN Special Envoy to Syria, prioritize detention by government forces and abduction by armed groups during their ongoing talks in Geneva. For its part the UN Security Council must impose targeted sanctions on leaders of armed groups who are responsible for war crimes.”

5 July 2016

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